What if you could take a pill that improved your productivity at work, boosted your overall health, made you feel amazing and was free? No such pill exists, but science suggests an alternative, SLEEP.
Even without fully grasping what sleep does for us, we know that going without sleep for too long makes us feel terrible, and that getting a good night’s sleep can make us feel ready to take on the world.
In today’s globalized, hyper-connected, HUSTLE work culture, we’re often spending longer hours working, frequently at the cost of our sleep.
But why should we sleep better? Why is it so important?
Sleep is pretty weird. Evolutionarily, sleep is a ridiculously stupid thing. We’re out cold for hours, completely defenseless, easy prey for any predator to do AS THEY WISH. And yet, for some reason, evolution decided that this was totally worth that risk. That, the benefits of sleep far outweighed being blind, paralyzed, and defenseless for a third of our lives.
Evidence suggests that a good night’s sleep seriously boosts productivity. Yet, paradoxically, the main driver of poor sleep is work overload. So many of us are not getting enough sleep because we’re working too much. And we’re not working efficiently because we’re not getting enough sleep.
Sound like a bad cycle?
Although scientists aren’t entirely sure why we sleep, they have many ideas about the functions of this mysterious part of our lives. While some of these functions may have deep evolutionary roots, others, such as sleep’s potential role in memory and health, seem particularly relevant to life in today’s world.
Firstly, people are generally not sleeping enough. Our work culture and the material nature of our lives has created an epidemic of people not sleeping more than seven plus hours a night. People tend to see sleep as avoidable, unnecessary even. They convince themselves that sleeping 5-6 hours is enough, not realizing the long terms effects of this choice.
There’s a ton of evidence showing that if you chronically sleep for less than seven to eight hours a night, you’re sabotaging yourself in various domains of life. Yes, apparently there are people who can sleep for less than six hours each night and function efficiently without any issues, but those are less than 1% of the population. So, if you think you’re in that camp – GREAT!
(I certainly am not!)
Secondly, even if we feel that we’re alright when we get six hours or seven hours of sleep, the evidence shows that we are pretty bad at assessing our own performance and function – while sleep deprived.
Studies show getting quality sleep on a regular basis can help improve all sorts of issues, from mind, body and heart health to your blood sugar and your workouts.
Aiming for eight hours a night is ideal. Not doing so, can have negative consequences further down the line. Here’s a quick dive into 7 ways that quality sleep benefits our life and healthspan.
1. Sharper brain & memory
Sleep and work performance go hand in hand. Sleep improves concentration and cognitive function – keeping your focus on point all day. Sleep plays a big part in learning and memory too. It allows your brain to hit the SAVE button on your day, so you can create long-term memories.
Sleep provides a time when the brain’s synapses — the connections between neurons—shrink by nearly 20 percent, causing the brain to shrink. This allows the neurons to rest and prep for the next day. Without this reset, known as SYNAPTIC HOMEOSTASIS – synapses could become overloaded and burned out, like an electrical outlet with too many appliances plugged in. The cerebrospinal fluid then steps in to clear out all the waste and toxins from the brain. This reduces inflammation and prevents dementia.
2. Mood management
Another thing that your brain does while you sleep is process your emotions. A lack of sleep at night can make you cranky the next day. And over time, skimping on sleep can mess up more than just your morning mood.
Your mind needs this time in order to recognize and react the right way. When you cut that short, you tend to have more negative emotional reactions and fewer positive ones. Chronic lack of sleep can also raise the chance of having a mood disorder – making you five times more likely to develop depression, anxiety, or panic disorders.
3. A healthier heart
Sleep reduces blood pressure, giving your heart and blood vessels a bit of a rest. The lesser you sleep, the longer both your blood pressure and stress hormone, cortisol, stay elevated during a 24-hour cycle. These increase chances of heart disease.
4. Athletic performance and balance
Sleep affects all types of exercise performance. It promotes physical recovery in the body. As you sleep, your body tissues repair, grow and strengthen, while producing its muscle building hormones of testosterone and HGH. Further, it helps with hand-eye coordination and reaction time.
5. Steadies blood sugar
During the deep, slow-wave sleep, blood glucose drops. Not enough time in this deepest stage means you don’t get that reset. This can negatively affect blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, making you more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes over time.
6. Immune health and inflammation
Sleep regulates your immune system. Not getting enough sleep, results in inflammation. Chronic inflammation keeps the immune system in overdrive, thus increasing the risk of autoimmune disorders and other health issues. Plentiful sleep allows your immune cells the rest they need to fight off whatever harmful bacteria and viruses come their way.
7. Weight control
When you’re well-rested, you’re less hungry. Sleep deprivation imbalances your appetite control hormones, by INCREASING ghrelin, which makes you hungry and LOWERING leptin, which tells you you’re full. Not sleeping enough, increases your stress hormone, cortisol, making you hold onto fat. Being tired makes you less active as well. All of the above when working together is a recipe for weight gain.