We all know that we need sleep.
At the same time, we live in a society that glorifies exhaustion. Conversations between busy people can sometimes sound like competitions about who got the least sleep, or who has the least time for a social life. For some reason, we find all sorts of excuses to resist something we know we need.
Part of this resistance is borne out of necessity — some people aren’t overworked by choice. There are a lot of cultural influences on our sleep, or lack of it. Unfortunately, many of those influences are unhealthy. Sleep deprivation, while extremely common, can be a very serious and severe ailment.
Getting enough sleep on a regular basis is vital to the way we function, and keeping to a regular sleep schedule can be just as important as how much time you spend asleep. Knowing just how vital it is might convince more people to make time for it.
Effects of Not Getting Enough Sleep
Having a short night every once in a while is generally not a big deal, but the effects of too little sleep can take a large toll on your body. Being drowsy, even after one night of poor sleep, can impair your driving, affect your mood and your decision making. If it goes on for long enough, lack of enough sleep can also have long term health effects.
Sleeplessness has been likened to drunkenness. As such, driving while drowsy has been compared to drunk driving in terms of severity of impairment, and how likely it is to cause an accident. Along with motor skills and reaction times, lack of sleep also impairs our decision making abilities and processes.
Feelings of drowsiness after a poor night’s sleep can persist throughout the day, affecting your mood, motivation, and performance in virtually all areas of your life. This could impact your work, social life, and family life, as well as your overall health.
According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services; “Research shows that not getting enough sleep, or getting poor-quality sleep, increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.” The kind of stress that your body is under when you have too little sleep can contribute to or exacerbate physical illnesses.
We all probably get cranky when we're feeling tired, but the effects of sleep on a person’s mood and mental health go further than surface emotions. Poor sleep can be a source of stress and anxiety, especially for people who have existing mental health concerns. Sleep is one of the main ways our bodies recover from physical and emotional exertion.
The Benefits of Sleep
Getting enough sleep isn’t just a zero sum to counter out the negative effects. When you’re well rested, your body enjoys a number of additional benefits. Finding time for sleep is important long term, and short term, for your health and happiness.
Improved Immune System
Some studies are showing that lack of sleep can have deleterious effects on the immune system. According to an article in the U.S National Library of Medicine, “Sleep and the circadian system exert a strong regulatory influence on immune functions.”
It isn’t just that not getting enough sleep hurts your immune system; keeping to a healthy sleep schedule can actually improve it and make you healthier in general. Considering how much time some of us lose when we are out sick, it’s definitely worth the extra effort to get regular sleep.
A Healthier Body
Not only does getting enough regular sleep act as a deterrent for future health issues, it can improve your current health. Sleep has a number of regulatory effects on the body, which makes it a critical component to weight management and weight loss. When we don’t get enough sleep, our metabolism can slow down, and our body tends to store more food as fat, which can lead to weight gain.
In addition, sleep helps to regulate the hormones associated with hunger. Not enough sleep means we usually want to eat more. Enough sleep can help regulate these effects, improve the metabolism and get the body burning fat more efficiently.
Mental Health Management
It makes sense that letting our brains rest helps manage our levels of stress and moods. Sleep has much more positive influence than that, as well. For people with existing mental health struggles, sleep is often a big part of the day-to-day management. Especially if someone is on medication, that medication could likely influence or depend on sleep, so sleep schedule planning becomes even more important. Sleep also regulates hormones, and vice-versa, an additional concern for anyone who needs extra help managing their mood.
A Happier Social Life
When we’re already tired, daily tasks like work and cleaning the house can take a greater toll, reducing our ability to find time in our schedules (and in our mood) for social activity. Lack of sleep also heightens our reactions to alcohol, reducing our ability to enjoy a casual drink once in a while. Getting enough sleep is likely to increase your motivation to engage in social activities and have fun.
Better Decision Making
Enough sleep in the right schedule could improve your performance at work, and your general quality of life by allowing you to make better decisions on a daily basis. This is due to the number of ways that our body responds to sleep, or lack of it. The combination of mood, motivation, and physical effects of sleep create short circuits in the way our brains process decision making, leading to poor decisions that can contribute to everyday activities, and even life-threatening accidents at work.
How To Get Enough Sleep
People struggle to get to sleep efficiently. Discomfort, an abundance of screen time, and even the foods we eat can affect the quality of our sleep and how easy we find it to fall asleep.
Make Sure You’re Comfortable
Some people can sleep anywhere. On the floor, in a chair, or out in the woods with tree roots digging into their side. That isn’t everybody, though Comfort is important for getting to sleep and for the quality of sleep we get. Sleeping the wrong way, or on the wrong kind of surface can cause a variety of familiar aches and pains.
Comfort benefits us in less physical ways, too. When your bed is comfortable, you’re more likely to want to spend time in it, to enjoy the feeling of snuggling up and getting ready for sleep. Shopping around carefully for the ideal mattress—one that feels the most comfortable and offers the appropriate support for your body—can help with the quality of your sleep, and can help you want to sleep.
Know When To Use Tech, and When to Put It Away
Sleep apps are a great way to generate information about your sleep patterns and the quality of your sleep. They can help you set schedules, and you can also get apps that lock out your phone when it’s bedtime, to keep you free from extended screen time.
Speaking of staying off your phone, screens wreak havoc on our circadian rhythm, emitting light that makes our body think it’s daytime. The simplest solution is to stop using screens as it gets closer to bedtime, but you can also change the screen settings (or download a program that does it for you) to reduce the blue light emitted by screens. It’s the blue light that usually keeps you awake the most, and reducing it means you can still check your messages before bed without screwing up your circadian rhythm.
Foods for Better Sleep
Certain foods and drinks that we consume, and the timing of their consumption, have differing effects on sleep. Caffeine is a big no-no in the afternoons and evenings when it comes to keeping a healthy sleep schedule. This doesn’t just mean coffee; a lot of sodas have caffeine in them as well, and it’s best to avoid that extra sugar close to bedtime, too.
Fatty foods, and foods likely to cause acid reflux, can also make sleeping more difficult. On the other hand, certain foods can help with sleep a great deal. Anything with melatonin, tryptophan, or vitamin B6 may help with sleep. It’s why enough turkey could make you sleepy, and why milk can help put you down at bedtime.
Set a Routine
A bedtime routine is a great way to make sure that you not only get to bed on time, but also that your body and mind are prepared for sleep by the time you actually lay down. This can involve a time of evening where you dim the lights and shut off screens, choosing other activities to wind down with. It might include a bath or using an essential oil diffuser. Whatever your routine happens to be, stick to it. Having a “this is bedtime” moment can help you shake off the stress of the day.
A little glass of whiskey or wine to help you get settled and drift off? It’s a nice idea, but drinking actually interferes with sleep. It may help you fall asleep faster, but it can be hard on your body and mess with the rhythms that make your sleep truly restful.
There are similar dangers associated with relying on other substances, such as sleep medicines, to get yourself to sleep. It’s generally not a great idea to self-medicate or to rely on substances to fall asleep, unless you’re seeing to a qualified medical professional about a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea.
In the end, sleep is perhaps the aspect of our lives we have the most power over, and it can have a profound effect on our physical and mental health, and quality of life as well. So don’t skip the sleep; get those eight hours in so you can feel rested and be the healthiest, best version of yourself you can be.
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