In the last blog, Sleep on it, I briefly introduced the value of sleep in our self-development quest. It is impossible to continually challenge our mind, body, and spirit without giving it adequate time to recover. I also eluded to ten reasons for which I have learned to prioritize sleep in my life. And while I will try to keep it brief, I want to share all ten benefits in this blog.
1. Muscle Growth
My favorite! Sleep enhances muscle growth. Sleep may be a time to relax, but it is also a time during which the body is hard at work repairing damage caused by stress, training, and other activities. During sleep, our cells produce more protein, including human growth hormone (HGH), allowing our bodies to make necessary repairs. On the flip side, inadequate sleep can interfere with the body’s ability to recover thereby stunting growth and increasing risk of injury.
2. Reduced Stress
A close second, but quickly becoming my favorite, sleep reduces our risk of stress, depression, and mental illness. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Lack of sleep has been a steadily escalating problem in America. Nearly one-third of adult Americans say that they get insufficient sleep, and the CDC even went so far as to call the situation an epidemic.”
Sleep deficiency triggers stress in many forms—mental, physical, and spiritual. Stress is known to induce mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The physical impact occurs when the body’s functions are put on high alert. This causes high blood pressure as a result of stress hormones such as cortisol, which over time, can negatively effect on the heart, immune system, and metabolic functions.
Stress also impacts the human spirit as wholesome motivations are sidelined to prioritize the very things causing stress. We begin to act out of duty and self-preservation instead of love, empathy, and nobility. Our vision and hearing narrows and we can only focus on solving the immediate problem ahead. Can you relate? Have you ever been unable to listen to stories, details, or day’s events, because you could not see beyond your stressors?
3. Heart Health
Sleep is essential for a healthy heart. Regardless of age, weight, and exercise habits, people with poor sleep discipline exhibit higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Although the reasons are unclear, researchers understand that poor sleep quality disrupts underlying health conditions and biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation. Oversleeping can also contribute to these disruptions.
4. Improved Athletic Performance
Sleep can improve our athletic performance by increasing our stamina, reaction time, coordination, and mood.
A study involving 11 healthy Stanford University athletes showed that 111-minute sleep extension improved their athletic performance over the course of two seasons. They saw improvements ranging from a 7% increase in speed during 282-ft sprints to a 9% increase in accuracy on both free throws and three-pointers. Subjects also reported improved overall ratings of physical and mental well-being during practices and games.
5. Improved Mental Performance
Sleep improves cognition in all areas to include concentration, alertness, mental clarity, and learning. Without it, our interpretation of events can be affected, because we lose our ability to make sound decisions when we can no longer accurately assess the situation, plan accordingly, and choose the correct behavior. Judgment becomes impaired.
Being chronically tired to the point of fatigue or exhaustion means that we are less likely to perform well—neurons do not fire optimally, muscles are not rested, and the body’s systems are not synchronized. Lapses in focus from sleep deprivation can even result in accidents or injury.
6. Improved Memory Recall
Have you ever pulled an all-nighter studying for an exam only to find your memory become just as blank as the exam when it landed on your desk? Researchers have found that sleep plays an important role in a process called memory consolidation. While sleeping, our body may be resting, but our brain is busy processing recent events, making connections between events, sensory input, feelings, and memories.
An interesting TedEd video explains the impact of quality sleep on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, during REM (rapid eye movement) and slow-wave sleep (SWS). These two cycles of deep sleep are very important for our brain to make memories and links. Without adequate sleep and rest, over-worked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.
7. Reduced Obesity
Researchers have found that people who sleep fewer hours 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. The hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite, have been found to be disrupted by lack of sleep.
8. Hormone Production
Did you know that people who work the late shift have a higher risk of developing breast and colon cancer? Researchers believe light exposure reduces melatonin levels. Melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, is thought to protect against cancer as it appears to suppress the growth of tumors. Sleep enables healthy hormone production which fight illnesses, diseases, and cancers.
According to the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (nicabm), a study of electronic screen reading before bed reduces sleepiness and decreases EEG delta/theta activity (deep sleep). It is recommended that our bedroom be dark and that we avoid using electronics at least 30 minutes before bed in order to help our body produce the melatonin it needs.
9. Reduced Inflammation
A lack of deep quality sleep increases stress hormones and raises the level of inflammation in our body. These stress hormones create a greater risk for heart-related conditions, as well as cancer and diabetes. Fun fact: Inflammation is thought to cause the body to deteriorate as we age. Personally, with my hair already falling out and my joints barking, I will use any sleep hack I can find!
10. Improved Immune Function
Studies show a lack of quality sleep can increase our risk of sickness when exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. During sleep, our immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which promote sleep. Certain cytokines are needed to combat stress, infection, and inflammation. Sleep deprivation decreases production of these protective cytokines, thereby increasing recovery time.
Today, I shared my ‘Top 10’ reasons to prioritize quality sleep. In the next few blogs, we will take a deeper look at how nutrition, exercise, and meditation can help us improve sleep quality. If this material is benefiting you, please let a comment and share your thoughts.
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