You may not be aware of the impact that sleep has on our health and wellbeing, but I’m sure you know the feeling of waking up after a good night’s rest and enjoying the benefits throughout the day. Likewise, we all know consequences that fatigue from a disruptive night’s sleep can have on our day. Even so, in our busy society with its hectic demands, few of us prioritise the need for good quality sleep.
There is an intimate relationship between good sleep and good health; without one the other likely suffers. A poor night affects our mood, energy levels, and our ability to concentrate and function effectively during the day. Equally, having mental health problems such as anxiety or depression can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times, can help protect your mental and physical health as well as boost your overall quality of life. As you begin to drift of to sleep, relaxing the mind and the physical body, the rest of you begins its night shift work, healing damaged cells, boosting the immune system and recharging your cardiovascular system for the next day.
In order to realise the effects that sleep has on our wellbeing, we first need to understand the sleep cycle which consists of two recurring phases. REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). Both phases perform different healing functions for our physical and mental bodies during the course of our slumber.
REM occupies up to 35% of our total sleep each night and is when dreaming occurs. These stages of sleep are essential for our minds to absorb, process and consolidate our emotions, memories and stress. Research has shown that this level of rest stimulates the brain regions used in learning and developing new skills.
We spend up to 80% of our repose in NREM states which is considered as a recuperative stage where the mind and body systems rebuild themselves after a hard day surviving in the world. This is where we reap the many physical benefits of good quality sleep such as tissue growth and repair, hormone production and energy restoration. During these stages, the immune system is boosted and the brain is refreshed with energy.
If either of these cycles are repeatedly interrupted over the course of the night, due to snoring, pain and mental activity, then we miss out on all these vital and nourishing processes and put unnecessary strain on our nervous system which can significantly affect our wellbeing the next day (poor decision making, feeling drowsy or irritable) as well as long term (heart issues, diabetes, weight gain, Alzheimers and depression).
So what are the benefits of getting a good nights sleep?
Researchers do not fully understand why we sleep and dream, but they do know that it plays an important role in a process called memory consolidation. When we are asleep, the body may be resting, but your brain is busy processing your day, making connections between events, sensory input, feelings, and memories. Deep sleep is a very important time for your brain to make memories and links, and getting more quality sleep will help you remember and process things better.
Keeps the heart healthy
Lack of quality rest has been associated with worsening of blood pressure and cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Reduced inflammatory problems
Increased stress hormones caused by lack of sleep raises the level of inflammation in your body. This creates a greater risk for heart-related conditions, as well as cancer and diabetes. Inflammation is thought to cause the body to deteriorate as we age
Increased levels of concentration and attention
A good night’s rest makes you feel energised and alert the next day. Being engaged and active not only feels great but increases your chances for another good night’s sleep. When you wake up feeling refreshed, use that energy to get out into the daylight, do active things, and be engaged with your world.
Reduced sugar cravings
Researchers have found that people who get less than 7 hours shuteye per night are more likely to be overweight or obese. It is thought that a lack of sleep impacts the balance of hormones in the body that affect appetite.
Lower stress levels
When your body is sleep deficient, it goes into a state of stress. The body’s functions are put on high alert, which causes high blood pressure and the production of stress hormones
Reduced Depressive Symptoms
Hormones such as serotonin are affected when we are asleep. People with serotonin deficiencies are more likely to suffer from depression. You can help to prevent depression by making sure you are getting the right amount of sleep: between 7 and 9 hours each night.
Next week, we will look at the common mistakes we often make that affect our quality of sleep.
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