We need sleep to keep our bodies well and healthy. Good quality sleep protects our mental and physical health and has a profound impact on our quality of life.
So why is sleep so important?
Sleep deficiency can have dire consequences. Our reaction times and how we think, work, learn and interact with others can be impacted by the amount of sleep we get. Overly sleepy drivers are at risk of having car accidents due to poor reaction times or simply because they fall asleep while driving.
If a person is sleep deficient, they may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling their emotions and behaviour, and coping with change.
Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviour. People who are sleep deficient are also less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks and make more mistakes.
For our brains to work properly we need sleep. Sleep enhances learning and problem-solving skills. While we sleep, our brains prepare for the next day and form new pathways to help you learn and remember information. It also helps us to be creative and to make decisions.
On a physical level, sleep is important for the healing and repair of our heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested.
Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in elevated blood sugar levels, which may increase your risk for diabetes.
Our bodies rely on sleep to maintain a healthy immune system. Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds which can mean that fighting off common infections can become difficult.
Here are 3 things you can do today that will help you to sleep better:
- Avoid coffee – caffeine blocks receptors in the brain that register sleep pressure so even a morning coffee can affect your ability to fall asleep or enjoy good quality sleep
- Create a sleep routine – aim to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning. Our bodies operate in cycles so disruptions to the sleep cycle can have an impact on your sleep. As part of your routine incorporate a wind-down period where your lights are dimmer, and you avoid blue light from devices and television screens.
- Manage your stress – stress can be one of the biggest factors that prevents good quality sleep. Stress management looks different for everyone, some people might find exercise helpful, others will find relief in talking to a friend or walking outside in nature. Find what works for you and do that.
The way we feel while we’re awake depends in part on what happens while we’re sleeping. Many metabolic processes take place at night while we sleep to support healthy brain function and maintain physical health. If we are continuously deprived of good sleep our bodies will start to degenerate and chronic health problems can start to arise so let’s make sure that we are getting the restorative, quality sleep that we need to thrive.
Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 13 January 2022 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am