So how’s that sleep thing going for you? Do you feel rested?
You’ve probably heard this, but sleep really, truly is important. Getting enough sleep is vital for optimal health and wellbeing. Yet most of us don’t manage to sleep enough, or sleep well. This can be complicated by hormonal shifts, especially for women.
For everyone, though, sleep deprivation can lead to trouble both instantaneously and over time. From accidents to chronic health problems, sleep deficiency can be dangerous. Let’s look at why good sleep is so important. Sleep affects:
- Brain function
- Physical health
- Performance and Safety
Research reveals that the brain actually shrinks when you don’t get enough sleep. With less sleep, cognitive function declines and ventricle enlargement grows (a marker for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease).
Recent work by Oxford neuroscientist Russell Foster even links abnormal circadian rhythms to mental illness, including schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.
Additional studies show that lack of sleep has a direct impact on memory, focus and the ability to make decisions and control your emotions. It has also been linked to depression and mood swings.
On the upside, studies also clearly indicate that proper sleep improves learning and problem-solving abilities. In fact, when you sleep well, your brain actually forms new learning and memory pathways.
When it comes to disease prevention, good sleep is key. Studies show that getting six to eight hours of sleep per night lowers your risk of developing:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
In fact, it’s estimated that 30 – 40 percent of all medical problems that a general practitioner sees are, directly or indirectly, related to lack of sleep.
Sleep affects healthy growth and development, immunity, hormones (including stress hormones), the body’s reaction to insulin and more.
It might surprise you to learn that getting good sleep is essential for weight control. It’s been shown that sleep directly influences the level of hormones that make you feel full (leptin) or hungry (ghrelin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your levels of ghrelin go up and leptin down, resulting in you feeling hungrier and more likely to overeat.
Performance and Safety
Lack of sleep not only affects us individually, but it also affects those around us—our families, coworkers and even our communities. Insufficient sleep can lead to everything from lack of concentration, moodiness and reduced physical performance to a public safety hazard.
A study led by Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep, for example, found that hospital medical errors could be reduced by as much as 36 percent when limiting doctor’s work shifts to 16 hours and reducing their total work schedule to a maximum of 80 hours per week.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that driver fatigue is responsible for 100,000 reported crashes each year (other data suggests that it the numbers are closer to 1 million crashes and 8,000 deaths per year). Sleep deprivation was also identified as a significant factor in the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.
Getting More Sleep
It’s clear that sleep deprivation is a serious matter. So what can we do to improve our quality and quantity of sleep? You can purchase our on-demand video Sleep, Body Repair and Dreaming to learn more.
For now, how much sleep is enough sleep? Studies show that for most adults, six to eight hours per night is optimal.
Wishing you good sleep,