We live in a fast paced, demanding society that often views downtime as time wasted. Attaining adequate sleep on a regular basis frequently becomes of secondary importance to cramming the day with as many activities as possible before hitting the hay. Even if going to bed an hour or two earlier than planned seems to come at the expense of a workout, an important work project or social function, doing so can have a significant positive impact on your health and wellness goals. It can make you more productive, healthier, and happier throughout your waking hours. Some of the many benefits of getting enough sleep include:
- Weight loss: The Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that decreased sleep is directly correlated to difficulty with losing weight. Other studies have shown that people who sleep less have significantly higher body mass indexes (weight to height ratio) than those who sleep adequately. Reduced sleep is also shown to reduce insulin sensitivity, a key hormone needed to regulate blood sugar and maintain a healthy weight.
- Muscle recovery: growth hormone is released when sleeping, the most important hormone needed to build and repair muscles after exercise.
- Stress and inflammation reduction: better sleep can lower cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone in the body. Aside from an enhanced sense of well-being, minimizing cortisol has a potent anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Many of the more common conditions that plague us are linked to increased inflammation in the body, including heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and cancer.
- Decreased pain: there is evidence that improving sleep quality can reduce the intensity of one’s perception of acute and chronic pain. Impaired sleep may even diminish the effectiveness of drugs designed to provide pain relief.
- Improved heart health: sleeping 5 hours or less per night is associated with a 45% increase in a risk of a heart attack and potentially increasing risk of strokes according to multiple studies. Given that a lack of sleep induces a stress response in the body, it can elevate blood pressure.
- Decreased depression: improving sleep releases the feel-good chemicals in your body, including serotonin. Serotonin is one of the most important neurotransmitters to promote feelings of happiness and comfort.
- Improved memory and mental performance: it’s been shown that poor sleep quality can disrupt the functioning of the hippocampus, the primary part of the brain responsible for memory formation. Deep sleep helps reinforce the important connections in your brain needed to store memories and maximize the processing of various tasks essential for sharp mental performance.
Most agree that the ideal amount of sleep each night should fall between 7-9 hours/night. If you don’t sleep enough, the simple answer is to sleep more. But how? Oftentimes those who struggle to get enough sleep suffer from issues of falling and staying asleep. Climbing into bed a little earlier doesn’t always solve these problems. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article for step-by-step instructions on how to improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep.