On average, most people sleep anywhere from 6-8 hours a day. Since we sleep about 1/3 of any given day, in one lifetime we sleep about a third of it. This may sound like a lot! Sleep is that important for children, teenagers and adults for proper functioning of our whole system. Getting a good night’s sleep has so many health benefits, it is time well spent. You may hear people say they can get by with less than 5 hours a day but actually scientific research indicates otherwise.
Consider for example the brain – the brain cells are actively working while we are asleep. The neurons in the brain form a network of connections or patterns when we form new memory or try to learn some new skills. When we sleep, the newly formed memory will solidify in a process known as consolidation. Thus, sleep helps in improved memory, cognition, decision making, learning abilities, motor skills and much more! Sleep is also important for our overall safety and protects us from accidents and therefore possible injury. Research finds that those who are sleep deprived have reduced alertness, mental concentration and focus. In fact, it has been found that drowsy driving can be even more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol.
Then there is the sensitive topic of obesity and weight gain. One of the hormones in our body is leptin that is responsible for regulating hunger and appetite and therefore is directly linked to weight gain. Those who are on a diet and trying very hard to lose weight, but are unable to get a good nights’ sleep, will find it much harder to shed off the extra pounds because of imbalances in this hormone. Not to mention that sleep is also important for muscle growth.
Additionally, those who are at risk for type 2 diabetes can benefit from proper sleep. Insulin is another important hormone that helps in the regulation of sugar concentration in our blood. It carries excess sugar molecules in the blood stream and acts as the key that ounlocks the door of the cells so that sugar can enter. Sleep deprivation therefore disrupts the regulation of several hormones in our body that can affect metabolism.
Cellular aging and inflammation is increased by lack of sleep. Cells in our body are constantly repairing to maintain themselves in a healthy and functional state and a lot of this housekeeping occur during sleep. Also, hormones that help to boost muscle mass, repair wounds, regenerate nerve cells are all pumped out during those hours when we are asleep.
The heart is the most important organ in our body and yes sleep has many positive effects on the heart. We definitely get brownie points from our heart when we get regular sleep – our blood pressure is lower, our heart rate is more regular, cholesterol levels improve and overall the risks of heart disease and stroke are much reduced.
Last but not the least, proper sleep improves our overall mood, lowers stress and is also shown to reduce risks of depression. We are more likely to be in a state of happiness and peace. When we are not sleep deprived, we automatically feel less anxious or worried and can feel more relaxed.