Why is Sleep Important? 6 Reasons to Make It a Priority

With around one third or 26 years of our lives spent in bed sleeping, it is clear that sleep is an essential. But why is it so important? Apart from physical effects like repairing of cells and rejuvenating your energy, getting good rest is actually needed for improving mental cognition, storing long-term memories and even regulating moods. Overall, sleep is essential to having a healthy and well balanced lifestyle.

With this in mind, here are our top six reasons to make sleep your top priority, and a short guide on what a good sleep entails and how it can be affected:

6 reasons to make sleep a priority 

Making sleep a priority can be difficult with the busyness of balancing work and play. Here are our top 6 reasons to prioritise your sleep, apart from being able function properly:

1. Less likely to be diagnosed with heart conditions

Because of how the sleep cycle works, your body slows during non-REM sleep and your heart does not have to work as hard as when you are awake. As you hit your REM sleep as well as when you begin to wake up, your heart is activated once again and your heart rate and blood pressure increase. 

This means if you have a disrupted sleep or irregular sleeping patterns, you have higher risk of heart disease and conditions such as:

  • Obesity
  • Angina
  • Heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke

Getting a good healthy sleep means that you are less likely to be diagnosed with a heart disease.

2. Regulates hormone distribution

Your body produces hormones throughout the day, which is related to your body clock or circadian clock. For example, in the morning, hormones to increase alertness like cortisol are released. Making sure that your sleep is set to a specific bedtime and wake up time ensures that all your hormones are released properly and distributed at the right time for optimal usage.

3. Reduces your risk of obesity 

Again your circadian clock is in charge of much more than just regulating sleep. Fat distribution and the way your body handles fat is controlled by your body clock. Your body clock ensures that fat is delivered to your liver at the appropriate times, meaning that fat distribution may be affected if you have unusual eating and sleeping habits. Because of this, your risk of obesity can be reduced if you prioritise having a healthy sleep.

4. Strengthens your immune system 

When you are sleeping, it may seem like your body is not doing anything, but it is actually the opposite, and several different systems are working hard to restore and re-energise the body. Your immune system and immune cells are actually repaired and rejuvenated during sleep. This means that a good sleep leads to good health and developing a stronger immune system. You are less likely to catch colds and other infections if you regularly get a good night's sleep.

5. Supports growth and development

As children, teenagers and young adults, there's nothing better than sleep to promote growth and body development. Even if you're now a fully-fledged adult, each night your body needs to grow and regenerate new cells for daily function, which can only be done while you're resting. If you do not get enough sleep, your body doesn't have the time to fully restore, which can lead to fatigue throughout the day.

6. Improves cognition and memory function

Concentration and thinking capability can be severely affected by a bad night's rest. A lack of sleep can contribute to a shortened concentration span, headaches and an affected memory when performing daily tasks. When your sleep patterns are consistent and fulfilling, your mind has time to rest and regenerate. Sleep helps with learning functionality and the formation of long-term memories.

What is a ‘good sleep’? 

A good night's sleep is most often categorised by how much sleep you get each night on average. However, there are several factors that can contribute to a good night's sleep, which can even come down to the lighting and sound within your bedroom.

Our sleep is actually controlled by two different systems that interact with each other; your body clock and homeostatic sleep drive.

Homeostatic sleep drives balances out our time being awake with periods of sleep. When we have been awake for an extended period of time, this process ensures that we feel sleepy and helps us to fall asleep. Homeostatic sleep drives give us enough sleep to make up for the time we are awake.

Body Clock is the name most often used to refer to circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are created by our central nervous system and control biological processes including sleep, body temperature and hormone production. Your body clock is synchronised with the 24-hour cycle of light and dark, which is what helps us sleep at night.

The best way to ensure a good sleep is by ensuring you are consistent in your habits each night. Having dinner or your last meal well before bed along with having a fixed bedtime and wakeup time (including the weekends!) will ensure that your body clock is set.

After setting your body clock, here are a couple of other sleep habits to keep:

  • Keep a dark and cool space: Surprisingly, the space you sleep in can actually determine how much sleep and how 'good' or 'bad' your sleep can be. Make sure that you regulate your body temperature by having a cooler space, as overheating can lead to a poor sleep. Of course, keeping your bedroom dark will regulate your circadian rhythm and tell your body it is time for resting.
  • Remove technology distractions: Technology can be a big distraction before bed, and can keep the mind active long after the screens are turned off. It is recommended to turn off all technology at least 30 mins before sleeping, or an hour for the ideal quality sleep.Exercise regularly

Consistent exercise can help improve your sleep quality. However, it is always recommended not to undertake vigorous exercise just before bedtime, as it may make it more difficult to calm the body down into a resting state.

How much sleep do you actually need? 

The amount of hours of sleep an individual may need is usually determined by their age:

The sleep cycle

Sleep is split into several periods of light sleep and deep sleep throughout the night. These sleep cycles are usually around 90 minutes at a time. Each cycle of sleep includes periods of non rapid eye movement or non-REM sleep and rapid eye movement or REM sleep, when our brain waves are active. During REM sleep is when dreams occur.

Your sleep cycles can be affected by a variety of factors, including too much napping during the day, stress, over-exercising or exposure to bright light (including blue light from technology) prior to bedtime.

What contributes to a bad sleep cycle? 

Getting enough sleep can be a difficult task when there are external circumstances such as loud noise or bright lights keeping us awake. But what about bodily conditions that can contribute to poor sleep quality? An adequate sleep is essential to restoring the body in almost every way, so if you are experiencing sleep deprivation, it may be from sleep disorders, mental health conditions such as stress and anxiety or even lifestyle choices.

Chronic pain 

Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts three months or longer and can be in any part of the body or part of conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. Chronic pain can make it very hard to fall asleep or stay sleeping due to discomfort. Poor sleep quality can also contribute to additional mental health strain, with feelings of anxiety and depression further interfering with sleep.

Unfortunately, chronic pain can worsen from sleep deprivation, as the body is unable to release certain hormones like endorphins that reduce inflammation and pain.

Sleep apnea and respiratory conditions 

Obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea or other respiratory illness like asthma can make breathing difficult during sleep. Sleep apnea occurs when an individual stops breathing for 10 or more seconds many times throughout the night, causing a severely disrupted sleep.

These sleep disorders often require the intervention of CPAP therapy or other forms of breathing regulation resources to allow adequate sleep to be achieved. CPAP machines allow for regular breathing patterns to occur, and can be a lifesaver for those suffering from respiratory conditions and subsequent poor sleep.

Individuals can be diagnosed with sleep apnea by sleep specialists and doctors during a sleep study, which monitors patterns of breathing, blood pressure and other factors to determine the reason for a disrupted sleep.

Sleep disorders

Other sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy and problems like night terrors can be both difficult to diagnose and difficult to deal with. While many of these disorders are uncommon, your physical and mental health can be severely affected by them. 

Again, a sleep study determines whether a sleep disorder is causing you to have a bad sleep, and these disorders can be treated with various medications and therapies.

Stress 

Mental health conditions such as increased stress, anxiety and depression can all affect your ability to have a quality sleep. While a diagnosis from mental health professionals is required for medication that can help with these sleeping problems, alternative therapies, such as meditation can reduce overthinking or stress during the night.

Lifestyle choices 

Finally, lifestyle choices such as over-usage of technology and increased ingestion of alcohol and drugs can lead to having insufficient sleep. Of course, these choices can be changed into healthier habits to reduce the amount of poor quality sleep you may be getting. It may be helpful to seek advice from a doctor or health professional to aid in breaking any habits and to make sure you are getting enough sleep.

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