The Importance of Sleep


What happens when we sleep?

Many metabolic processes take place at night while we sleep to support healthy brain function and maintain physical health. Many systems regenerate themselves and toxins are removed from the body. If we are continuously deprived of good sleep our bodies will start to degenerate and chronic health problems can arise.

For our brains to function properly we need enough sleep.

While we sleep, amyloid plaques and tau tangles are cleared from our brains. This process helps to maintain optimal cognitive function. If these deposits are not cleared, cognitive disorders such as Dementia and Alzheimers can be triggered.

With sleep, our brains prepare for the next day and form new pathways to help us learn and remember information. Sleep helps our creativity and our ability to make decisions. Learning and problem solving skills are also enhanced with good quality sleep.

Sleep deficiencies can have dire consequences as they slow our reaction times and negatively affect the way we think, work, learn and interact with others.

Why should we aim to improve our sleep quality?

On a physical level, sleep is important for the healing and repair of many systems including our heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.

Lack of sleep may lead to microsleep, which refers to brief, involuntary moments of sleep that occur while we’re normally awake. This can be potentially dangerous, especially when driving or operating machinery.

Sleep deficiency increases the risk of obesity.

Sleep helps to maintain a healthy balance of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which make us feel hungry or full. Sleep deprivation causes ghrelin levels to increase and reduces leptin so we tend to feel hungrier when we’re tired.

Sleep also affects how our bodies react to insulin.

Sleep deficiencies result in higher blood sugar levels which increases the risk of diabetes.

How much sleep is enough?

Each person has different sleep requirements, but a guideline is 6 – 7 hours per night. Ideally we should be asleep before midnight and wake around sunrise. Although weekend sleep-in’s and naps are tempting, we should avoid them because they can interfere with the quality of our night-time sleep and create disruptive sleep patterns.

Too much sleep can be a bad thing. Apart from the health consequences, which are very similar to those related to sleep deprivation, over sleeping is seldom refreshing and can make a person feel even more tired.

For optimal health, we need to find the balance and aim to get the right amount of sleep that will be best for us individually.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 23 July 2020 to learn more.

Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am