You have probably heard or seen people boasting about how many hours they spent at work last week, or how late they stayed up to finish an assignment or a presentation. But no one ever talks about how many hours they spent asleep last night and we think that’s far more important.
There is a modern-day misconception about the importance of sleep. We’ve convinced ourselves that anything else is more productive and that we can sleep another time.
Recently, though, sleep science has been gathering steam and proving what should have been intuitive all along. If you want to take better care of yourself, start by making your sleep a priority.
So, how much do we undervalue sleep? The guideline for adults is 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. If you think you can function with less than 6 hours, think again. Only 5% of the population has the genetic mutation to do so.
Our brains are wired to ignore signs of sleep deprivation, so many of us get used to insufficient sleep without feeling the damage we’re doing.
When you get enough quality sleep, here’s what you receive in return for the extra time invested:
Inside your body
- enhanced immune function and disease resistance,
- increased energy and strength, so you feel and act more vibrantly
- improved weight loss and blood glucose regulation, helping you lose fat and improve your skin
- upgraded coordination and flexibility, so you miss fewer steps and catch yourself when you do
- boosted hormone levels, so you recover faster and improve your fertility
Inside your brain
- increased focus and creativity, so you can perform at your highest level
- enhanced memory and ability to learn complex skills, helping you retain what you learn
- improved emotion regulation, so you can keep calm under pressure
Getting enough restorative sleep helps keep your autonomic nervous, hormone, and immune systems balanced. When you’re balanced, you sleep better. It’s a virtuous cycle that affects all aspects of your health and productivity.Still not convinced? Skipping out on sleep impacts your ability to think effectively, react quickly, create memories, and regulate your emotions.
Here’s what’s at stake:
- Your sympathetic, fight-or-flight nervous system becomes overactive, pumping excess cortisol into your system.
- Your body’s primary healing resource, human growth hormone, dramatically reduces production.
- Your reproductive system is disrupted. A man’s testosterone levels decrease to the equivalent of a man who is 10+ years older, and women have disrupted conception hormone cycles.
Energy and resilience
- Your time to physical exhaustion drops.
- Your injury rate increases.
- Your tissue repair slows and lactic acid builds up faster.
- Your peak muscular strength, vertical jump height, and running speed decrease.
Weight and metabolism
- Your probability of gaining weight, being overweight increases.
- Your weight loss shifts to shedding valuable muscle rather than fat.
- Your likelihood of overeating increases as hunger hormone levels rise while the levels of the hormones that signal that you feel full fall.
- Your immune system is disrupted and handicapped at reducing inflammation.
- Your brain accumulates toxins that impair behavior and judgment.
- Your short-term memory and attention are reduced.
- Your ability to solve problems, be creative, and use divergent thinking declines.
- Your crucial decision-making center, the prefrontal cortex, shows reduced activity.
- Your cognitive impairment is equivalent to being inebriated after 20 hours of being awake.
- Your brain’s ability to learn and create long-term memories is compromised.
Regulation of emotion
- Your brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, increases activity.
- You are more likely to overreact to social situations, such as a fight with a spouse.
What can you do?
If you want to combat these effects, sleep is your best defense. You can start by going to bed earlier and sleeping longer each night.
- Reduce blue light exposure (phone, tablet and computer screens) in the evenings.
- Don’t consume caffeine late in the day.
- Reduce alcohol consumption.
- Optimise your bedroom for sleeping - comfortable temperature, reduced external light and minimal external noise.
- Don’t eat late in the evening.
If you want to go a step further and get an insight into how you sleep, devices are available which can track and analyse your sleep. Tracking your sleep can allow you to identify whether or not you are getting enough of it and if it's quality rest.