Have you ever thought about why you need to sleep at all? Lack of sleep makes you feel tired, but sleep is not only there to give us energy for the day. The answer to why sleep is important is much broader and more significant than that. This article is about the three components: brain, health and mood that sleep has a significant impact on and how you can harness them to improve the quality of your sleep.
Restful sleep shouldn't be taken for granted
70% of adults do not get enough sleep. 60% report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. In addition, more than 40% of adults experience daytime sleepiness so severe that it interferes with their daily activities at least a few days a month - 20% even report significantly limiting sleepiness a few days a week or more.
According to sleep experts, stress is the most common cause of short-term sleep problems. Common triggers include job pressure, family or marital problems, and a serious illness or stroke of fate, such as a death in the family. Usually, sleep problems disappear when the stressful situation is over. However, if short-term insomnia is not treated properly from the beginning, it can persist long after the original cause has passed.
1. Sleep - fuel for the brain
One of the most important benefits of sleep is improved mental performance. Research has shown that lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on a number of cognitive tasks.
Experiments suggest a simple and linear relationship between sleep and cognitive performance. The less you sleep, the more trouble you have with mental processing. The more you sleep - even beyond natural levels - the more efficient you will be at cognitive tasks. However, this is no excuse for sleeping 20 hours a day, because too much sleep has its drawbacks.
Memory is another important function that is positively affected by good quality sleep. Firstly, it allows you to concentrate better during the day and absorb more information. Secondly, memory consolidates during sleep and moves from short-term to long-term memory. With a good memory, we can assess situations more accurately and make better decisions.
Lack of sleep not only impairs our judgment, but also our ability to process complex information and think logically. If you want to succeed at work and make better decisions in life, sleep is essential. There is no better way to achieve focus and alertness when you need it most.
2. Sleep helps you stay healthy
Sleep doesn't just help you concentrate better, though. Its benefits go far beyond brain health, as a healthy sleep schedule helps prevent some of the most serious and common health conditions. Years of sleep deprivation have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, stroke and obesity.
Obesity is the key factor here as it can often lead to the other diseases mentioned. It seems somewhat confusing that lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. Of course, weight is a result of how much we eat and how much we exercise - but lack of sleep can lead to overeating. This is because during sleep the production of hormones that stimulate hunger is regulated. If you don't sleep enough, these make you feel hungry more often, which leads to you eating more than your body needs. When you are exhausted, you are naturally less motivated to exercise or be otherwise active.
This not only affects your metabolism, but also leads to an increase in your body's production of cortisol, the hormone that controls stress. Lack of sleep leads to more stress, which in turn increases blood pressure and can lead to a stroke or heart disease.
3. Sleep it off
When you perform at your best mentally while avoiding physical illness, you are naturally happier. You are less stressed at work, more present in relationships and better able to pursue your dreams and passions. However, sleep has an even more direct effect on satisfaction. On any night when you sleep well, you wake up in a slightly better mood.
In one survey, those who were sleep-deprived reported higher levels of anger, irritability, frustration and sadness. Conversely - and predictably - those who got the right amount of sleep were more likely to report being calm, motivated and happy. There is also plenty of research showing the link between mood disorders and insomnia. In fact, people with insomnia are five times more likely to develop depression than those who are well-rested. Sleep problems also increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder by 20 times.
How to improve your sleep
Sleep is essential. In fact, it's crucial for a healthy and happy life. So you're probably wondering how you can improve your sleep and reap the benefits mentioned above.
Leading sleep researchers recommend the following techniques for better sleep:
Make your environment sleep-friendly
Minimise noise, light and excessively hot or cold temperatures in your sleeping area.
Create a regular sleep-wake cycle
Develop a regular bedtime and go to bed at the same or at least a similar time every night.
Try to go to bed earlier for a set time each night to make sure you get enough sleep
Try to wake up without an alarm clock (at least without hitting snooze)
Treat your body right
Make sure you are exposed to bright light (i.e. bright blue midday sky or a daylight lamp with at least 10,000 LUX) for about 1-2 hours every day - preferably in the morning.
Enjoy - but be smart about it
Don't drink caffeine four to six hours before going to bed and generally minimise your consumption during the day
Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before bedtime (it's best to eat your last big meal before 7pm)
If this is not enough and you are still struggling with insomnia or unrestful sleep, you can address and sustainably improve your sleep together with a sleep expert and with the support of a group of like-minded people with the same goal.
Sleep is a good time investment because: When you sleep well, you maximise your brain's potential, reduce the risk of serious health problems and stay in a better mood.