With a 3 week old baby at home, I feel like I am performing a personal sleep deprivation experiment. In the past 3 weeks, I have averaged only 4 hours of sleep each night. These 4 hours total are broken up into shorter durations. Oh the joys of newborns!
The lack of sleep has me wondering how our sleep affects our lives. Yes, we are more tired with a lack of sleep. But what else is affected? After doing some research, I have discovered that many things can suffer or conversely improve by either not getting enough sleep or enough.
Better health. Getting a good night’s sleep won’t grant you immunity from disease. But study after study has found a link between insufficient sleep and some serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Although most of these only become serious after years of sleep loss, recent studies have shown that even four days of lack of sleep can be enough to have blood glucose levels of pre-diabetics.
Less Stress. A good night’s sleep can help lower blood pressure and levels of stress. Stress can degenerate cells, which propel the aging process. Getting enough sleep slows these effects and encourages relaxation.
Better Sex Life. Although it’s a bit of an ongoing joke between couples “I am too tired to have sex” – it is actually true. According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, up to 26% of people say that their sex lives tend to suffer because they’re just too tired.
Less Injuries. This may seem like a no brainer – but sleeping enough might actually keep you safer. Your attention, reaction and responses are negatively affected when you are tired. From driving, to cooking, to accidents at work, being overtired makes you more likely to fall, trip, cut yourself or when driving, even falling asleep!
Better mood. “Not getting enough sleep affects your emotional regulation,” says Mindell. “When you’re overtired, you’re more likely to snap at your boss, or burst into tears, or start laughing uncontrollably.”
Weight management. Aside from being too tired to go for a walk or go to the gym, not getting enough sleep may be responsible for weight gain. This is because of the hormone leptin – the hormone partly responsible for making you feel full. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels drop. Therefore if you are tired, you may just be hungrier than normal and may crave high calorie, high fat foods.
Brain function. “Sleep loss affects how you think,” according to Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, a professor of psychology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and author of Sleep Deprived No More. “It impairs your cognition, your attention and your decision-making.” Sleep loss could be to blame for forgetfulness too. Our brains process and consolidate our memories from the day when we sleep. This is why one of the recommendations given to elderly patients to improve memory function is to ensure they are getting enough sleep.
Stronger immunity. A recent study has shown that people who get seven hours of sleep a night or less were almost three times as likely to get sick as the people who got at least eight hours of sleep a night. “Your body produces extra protein molecules while you’re sleeping that helps strengthen your ability to fight infection and stay healthy. These molecules help your immune system mend your body at a cellular level when you are stressed or have been exposed to compromising elements such as pollutants and infectious bacteria.”
So now that you know why sleep is so important, ask yourself if you get enough. If you’re not getting 7 or 8 hours a night, you are not. If this is the case (as is with most of us), make the commitment to get more sleep. Turn off your iPad, TV, or device of choice and get to bed earlier. Start tonight – even if it is only a half an hour earlier to start. It’s something you don’t have to sweat over or work hard at. Just relax and head off to dreamland!
Sources: Better Sleep Better Life.Com, WebMD, Harvard Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Health.Com