Although the science is unclear on why we need sleep, there is no question that sleep serves a critical role in optimal health. Scientists believe that a good night’s sleep is as essential to wellbeing as a healthy, varied diet. Most of us can agree that sleep is restorative, making us feel better, and that lack of sleep may leave us groggy, irritable and unable to function at our best. Powerful internal drives regulate both eating and sleeping. When we go too long without food, hunger ensues and eating relieves the uncomfortable feeling. Go too long without sleep, we become increasingly sleepy to the point where we are unable to remain awake. In short, sleep relieves sleepiness just as eating relieves hunger. Scientists are still exploring the primary functions of sleep and have developed promising theories to explain why we sleep and the health benefits that sleep provides.
- One thing we know for sure is that sleep is restorative. During sleep, the body repairs and rejuvenates itself. Many of the significant restorative functions of the body including muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis and release of growth hormones occur mostly, and in some cases only, during sleep.
- Research shows that energy metabolism is significantly reduced during sleep. Body temperature is lower and demand for calories decreased. Scientists theorize that one of the primary functions of sleep may be to conserve energy resources.
- A refreshing night’s sleep may be the best way to boost memory. During sleep, the connections between nerve cells in the brain appear to strengthen which is essential to both learning and memory. While we are awake, we acquire information. While we sleep, that information is sorted and memorized.
- According to the UCLA Cousins Center research team, losing sleep for even part of one night can trigger and produce tissue-damaging inflammation. Their data showed an association between sleep disturbance and a risk for medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, certain cancers and obesity. Scientists have concluded that sleep is vitally important to maintaining a healthy body.
- Researchers at the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University have found that lack of sleep affects our perception of food. Males who went without sleep for one night showed high levels of activity in the area of the brain involved in the desire to eat and were less likely to make healthy food choices. According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, adequate sleep is as important to a weight loss program as diet and exercise.
- Weight loss can help improve the quality of sleep among obese or overweight persons, according to a study by Johns Hopkins researchers. “The key ingredient for improved sleep quality from our study was a reduction in overall body fat, and, in particular belly fat, which was true no matter the age or gender of the participants or whether the weight loss came from diet alone or diet plus exercise,” said Kerry Stewart, Ed.D, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
- A new study, published this week in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, found that sleep increases the ability of lifestyle factors including a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking and moderate alcohol consumption, to protect against cardiovascular disease. Even without the other traditional healthy life style factors, good sleep alone was found to have significant cardiovascular benefits.
The question remains as to why we are so willing to deprive ourselves of sleep. Sleep is one of the first things we are willing to sacrifice to meet the demands of our daily lives. When you really think about it, sleep is more important than food. If we fasted for a week, at the end of that time we’d be hungry, weak, tired and slimmer. Deprived of sleep for several days, you’d be almost completely unable to function. Does sleeping one hour less each night give you one more hour of productivity? Research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, mood, cognitive capacity and productivity.
With sufficient sleep, we feel better, have more focus, and can better manage our emotions. The impact of a poor night’s sleep is immediate and unavoidable. If you need a power nap, take one. Especially during periods of high demand, a 10 – 20 minute nap in the middle of the day can have a remarkable impact on your ability to focus for the balance of the day. These tips may help to improve both the quantity and quality of your sleep:
- Set a bed time and go to bed earlier. It’s easy to find excuses to stay up later and sleep in until the last possible minute. Set a time and stick to it.
- Start winding down at least 45 minutes beforehand. That means turn off the TV, computer, or cell phone and cease all work related activities. Turning down the lights activates your sleep hormones, preparing you for a good night’s rest.
- If your mind is still active, write down that unfinished to-do list or unresolved issues so you don’t lie awake thinking about them.
Supplements to aid sleep:GABA 750 mg by PhysioLogics – GABA is an amino acid that functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It is known to play a role in the overall functioning of the pituitary gland, which regulates growth hormone synthesis, sleep cycles, and body temperature. Natural ZZZ’s by Ortho Molecular – With natural and traditional Chinese herbs to address intermittent wakefulness, difficulty falling or remaining asleep and relieve the anxiety and nervousness that may affect sleep quality. Kavinace by Neuroscience – Kavinace is recommended to promote sleep, reduce anxiousness, and support healthy levels of GABA.