Major reasons why sleep is important for your health
We’ve all been victims of sleep deprivation. Whether it’s for meeting a deadline, pulling an all-nighter for an exam, or the “just one more episode” lie. I often find myself compromising on sleep when my day gets too busy. But we are constantly hearing about getting adequate sleep and how it affects us negatively if we don’t get enough.
Personally, I’ve always seen sleep as the enemy. I’ve always dreamt of staying up days and nights with minimal rest to make the most of my time.
Now, with the pandemic living amongst us and with so much spare time, I find myself sleeping a lot. And I have to say, I get up more refreshed, my day starts happier and I don’t need that coffee to wake up, anymore! Humans spend about 1/3rd of their life asleep and they must spend this 1/3rd only on sleep so that the remaining 2/3rds of life are productive and efficient.
What Happens to your body when you sleep and why is sleep important?
Sleep is one of the primary bodily functions that are a must for survival alongside food and water. It is said that human beings can go months without food but not more than 11 days without sleep. So what is it, exactly, that makes sleeping so important? It’s when you sleep that your body gets to work on itself, repairing all the damage and taking care of all the stress of the day. It gives your ever-active brain a chance to finally rest after its being used all day!
We sleep in cycles, each cycle lasting 90 minutes. It is said that if awoken in the middle of a cycle, you tend to wake up cranky.
- Your growth hormone, the hormone responsible for the growth and development of children, is secreted during sleeping. This is why it is crucial for growing children to get at least 8-10 hours of undisturbed sleep, every night.
- Since you are completely still, your heart rate and breathing rate falls. Your breaths become deeper and longer. They are less labored. Your blood pressure drops by 20% of what it is during wakefulness.
- All your muscles relax and the body repairs them. The reason why some people don’t get gains even after intense working out is because of lack of sleep. It’s during these sleeping hours that your muscles grow!
- Your body temperature decreases as your blood flows away from your skin and goes to your deeper, vital organs like your muscles and your brain.
- Your brain activity reduces from the state of wakefulness, this gives it time to relax and take a break from the long days’ hard work.
- You make memories last, while you sleep. Say you’ve studied a topic today, you will remember it that day. This is your short term memory. But whether or not you’ll remember it after a week, depends on your long term memory. The wiring for these memories takes place while we sleep.
What happens when you get insufficient sleep?
If we happen to get insufficient rest at night, we are essentially depriving our body of the time it needs for growth, tissue repair, muscle building, and memory consolidation. Now, since ‘adequate sleeping’ encompasses both-quality and quantity-here are 5 signs that you are not getting enough sleep:
- Stress. Have you ever found yourself getting frustrated over the smallest of things? Tasks that require simple logic, you are just unable to perform! Studies have shown that with lack of sleep, all brain functions like cognition, memory, logical thinking, decision making, and problem-solving are hampered.
- Feeling Sick. When you don’t get your body’s desired amount of sleeping, your immune system hasn’t gotten enough time to reboot itself making you more susceptible to catching infections. So, if you find yourself falling sick very frequently, you might want to increase your snooze time.
- You can’t seem to remember. Without giving your mind enough time for consolidating memories, you tend to forget a lot more than usual. Your mind just isn’t alert and you seem zoned out, most of the time.
- You start looking different. In people who don’t get adequate sleep, their faces start to look worn out and tired. They begin noticing wrinkles and spots on their face early on n life.
- Decreased performance in bed. Lack of sleep negatively impacts your libido levels.
- Loss of interest. You tend to find yourself withdrawn and disinterested in your routine activities.
- Yawning. You’re always tired, always sleepy, and to the dread of those around you, always yawning!
Importance of rest and sleep
Remember the sleeping cycles I was talking about? To put it simply, each cycle is divided into 2 stages-the REM and NREM. Most of your dreams happen in the REM stage. So, what are dreams? No one knows why or how, but dreams are just stories and motion pictures that your mind creates when we sleep.
On awakening, most of us forget what we were dreaming about, instantly. A few people, however, tend to retain most of the dream. Researchers are still working out the whys. But do dreams indicate a sound sleep? The answer is no. Many people can go deep into sleep without dreaming. We spend most of our sleeping time in the NREM stage of our sleeping cycle-the one without dreams.
So, it’s completely normal to wake up refreshed after a full night’s dreamless sleep.
What is the ideal amount of sleep your body needs?
I’ve come across this question countless times, ‘How many hours should I sleep in a day?’ While textbooks suggest an ideal time of 6-8 hours of sleep for an average adult, there are certain things to be taken into account before blindly following this rule. This brings me to my next topic of discussion:
Sleep quality v/s quantity
When you read 6-8 hours of sleep, it means 6-8 hours of continuous, uninterrupted sleep at the same time, each day. I want to stress this because I often listen to people saying they are sleeping for 8-9 hours daily, but still wake up drowsy and sleep-deprived. On further probing, do I come to know that their sleeping isn’t continuous.
They wake up in the middle of the night for some reason. Or, it so happens, that they don’t have a fixed time to go to bed and wake up every day. Despite getting the adequate duration of sleep, by compromising on your sleep quality, you’re putting your body in risks of:
- Contracting heart diseases
- Becoming overweight
- Being more prone to accidents-as you can fall asleep while driving
Is there a correct time to go to bed?
I’ve said so much about going to bed at the same time every day and we’ve all heard the infamous “Its time to go to bed” and “make sure you go to the bed at the right time”. So, what is the right time? Our body’s sleep-wake cycle is controlled by a certain rhythm in the body called the circadian rhythms.
These are rhythms of physiology and behavior that control our sleeping and wakefulness. Our body always works by balancing 2 opposing activities. In this case, for example, the ability of us to fall asleep and remain awake and alert is regulated by 2 processes-one that keeps us awake and one that makes us sleepy.
These both are, in turn, regulated by the circadian rhythm. The bright light of the day stimulates the wakefulness process and ensures that we stay awake. This function, however, declines by night time and our sleepiness takes over.
Now, not only your sleep quality but many other bodily functions depend on this rhythm. The secretion of many hormones, for example, take place at different times of the day, depending on your sleep-wakefulness cycle.
By sleeping and waking up at the same time, each day, you are not only improving your sleep, but you are also making your body more efficient at its work.
It is something like this. Imagine you are at this job. You have a designated role, but there is no timetable. You may be summoned to perform a task at any time, randomly. Having no assigned lunch and break times. How does it feel? Stressful? Wouldn’t you rather have a basic timetable at least specifying when your lunch and break times are?
Oversleeping. Is it harmful?
Too much sleep or excessive sleep or oversleeping is when you’re sleeping for more than 9-10 hours at a stretch. Again, I’m talking about more than 9-10 hours of continuous, uninterrupted sleeping. So, what happens to your body when you oversleep?
While, sleeping in every once in a while or just giving yourself some extra rest is good for your body, oversleeping every night, might not be a great idea. Research shows that oversleeping may be equally harmful as getting inadequate sleep. It too increases the risk of stroke, heart diseases, and diabetes.
The reason why people tend to oversleep is to make up for the lack of sleep in the predeceasing days. This forms a vicious cycle that is very unhealthy for your body.
All-nighters. Are they helpful?
We’ve all been there. Studying for an exam, preparing for a meeting- trying to cram a week’s work in one night. But compromising on that one night of sleep, promising ourselves that we’ll sleep the following afternoon. Is it a good idea? Does science support it?
While most people need their 7-9 hours of sleep to function efficiently, some people believe that their bodies will work just as efficiently on lesser or no sleep. In my first year of med school, I too spent 6-7 days without sleeping, just mugging up information and puking it out on the paper, during exams. Has it worked for me?
Yes. I was able to pass them, sure. But it took a serious toll on my health. I was stressed out of my mind and began losing hair, appetite, weight, and whatnot.
All-nighters might be useful in attaining short-term goals and as a back-up to fall back on during desperate times, but looking forward to staying up all night as a solution to exams or deadlines is not advisable. Rather, focus on improving your planning skills. Plan, so you don’t end up sleepless on the day of your very important presentation!
How to sleep better at night naturally?
With everything I’ve just blurted out, what can you do to improve your sleep quality and quantity?
- Go to bed at the same time every night. Like I’ve said earlier, this is crucial in not only improving your quality of sleep but also the efficiency of your body.
- Avoid screens or bright lights at least 2 hours before going to bed. Remember the sleep-wake cycle we spoke about earlier? Blue light is one of the stimulants that send signals to your brain to keep you awake as it imitates day time. Using screens just before falling asleep can interfere with the quality of sleeping and make you twist and turn in bed wondering why you can’ fall asleep.
- Eat your last meal of the day at least 3 hours before going to bed.
- Use your bed only for what it’s meant-sex and sleeping. This conditions your mind to automatically feel sleepy as soon as you lie down on the bed. Doing other activities like eating or studying on your bed associates with you requiring to be alert which hampers with the quality of your sleep.
- Have a night routine. An ideal night routine would be a warm bath followed by a gentle face massage with your favorite smelling night cream. You can also include some light full-body stretches before going for that bath.
Conclusion – Health Benefits of Sleep
Sleep is one of the primary needs of your body. You may hate it, but, like me, you must accept that the better you sleep, the more efficient you are, and the better you work. We all cheat on our sleep at some point. And it takes some effort, but can and should always go back to our sleeping patters which we followed as children. This is how you can be the best version of yourself and live a longer and healthier life.
We hope this article helped you to know about Major Reasons why good sleep is important for your health. You may also want to see our guide on Why Wearing A Mask In The Gym Is Important? and Best Tips To Make Your Daily Walk Feel Like Walking Workout.