We all know about the importance of sleep for our health, but why?
Sleep is the foundation of good health. When we are lacking in sleep, all the health goals that we try to achieve become much harder. The benefits of improving sleep time and quality are countless. Every organ and system in the body is influenced by our sleep.
Sleep expert and neuroscientist Matthew Walker has put it best – “sleep is like the Swiss army knife of health” – meaning that whatever the ailment, sleep can help fix it. Brain function, stress and anxiety, pain, diabetes, immune function. It can all be improved by a good night’s rest and can get worse by not getting enough sleep.
Research has shown that even one night of insufficient sleep disrupts blood sugar levels, impairs decision-making skills and affects your immune system.
It is recommended that adults sleep 7-9 hours per night, however with our busy modern lives, many people regularly only sleep 6 hours per night. What are the long-term impacts of this? Insufficient sleep has been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and poor mental health.
So what happens when we sleep?
When we sleep, the body and brain recharge and reorganize the information gathered in the day. It prepares our brain to learn well and helps us remember what we’ve learned. This ‘file-transfer’ process helps short term memories become long term memories. Sleep also acts as a garbage disposal system, that eliminates the toxins and waste products left by the brain. So having good sleep flushes out the waste from the day, improving your brainpower for the next day.
What are the sleep stages?
There are 2 types of sleep – Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM). REM sleep is most known as the dream phase. It has been described as emotional first aid – decreasing feelings around depression and anxiety. While REM sleep occurs throughout the night, the length and quality of the REM phase is deepened in the early hours of the morning.
NREM has 4 stages. Stages 3-4 are the deep restorative sleep; however, all stages of sleep are important and have different and necessary functions. This is why it is important to get a full night’s sleep so that your body has a chance to go through every sleep stage.
If you would like to improve your sleep quality, click here to view tips on how to get a good night’s sleep.
Walker, M. (2018). Why We Sleep. The New Science of Sleep and Dreams.
Eugene, A., & Masiak, J. (2018). The Neuroprotective Aspects of Sleep. MEDTube Science, 3(1), 35–40. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4651462/