The Top 10 Health Benefits of Sleep
It is true that I love sleep, when I get it. Being a college student (or a human being in general) places a lot of stress on my mind and body, but I always find time to get in 8 hours of sleep every night. Although 8 hours is a general rule, and doesn’t apply to everyone, I find that I function more optimally around this number.
There are many reasons why sleep is important, some of which you may not even think about on a daily basis. We all know we need sleep, and some of us know that we need more than what we’re getting right now. If you are currently having trouble sleeping, see my previous post on an interesting way to promote sleep.
Lack of sleep can promote weight gain, diabetes, cancer, depression and a host of other ills; when diseases develop, it’s usually the result of something not happening correctly in a persons body or lifestyle. Sleep is one of the most natural, powerful ways we can prevent many negative aspects in our health. To see the health benefits of sleep and why it’s important, keep reading…
Sleep Prevents Diabetes
Along with a healthy lifestyle, sleep may be the prescription to many Americans in regards to helping prevent diabetes. When our bodies don’t receive the adequate rest they need for repair, every cell in our bodies suffer. Our insulin receptors on the cells actually weaken, and overtime can become less sensitive to the effects of insulin. This results in poor uptake of blood glucose, and later diabetes type II. Our cells need that extra time to rest, repair and rebuild those receptors for our bodies to remain truly healthy. On top of this, I also believe that overconsumption of food (as mentioned in #1) that stems from decreased leptin signaling also plays a role in diabetes formation through sleep deprivation.
Good Night Sleep Linked to Healthier Weight
When our sleep levels are disrupted and we don’t receive enough sleep, the body is actually more susceptible to gaining weight easily. A lack of sleep is correlated with lower production of the hormone leptin, which is stored in our fat cells and tell us when we need to stop eating. Ghrelin, on the other hand (the “hunger” hormone) is stimulated by lack of sleep, and can make us eat more than we should. In fact, some studies have shown that participants who had 4-6 hours of sleep a night desired 1,000 more calories than they really needed.
Sleep Ensures Healthy Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels
There are some connections between a lack of sleep (or even too much sleep) to an increase in harmful cholesterol and fats in the blood (triglycerdies). Although the research is conflicting, it does help us see how sleep can affect our cardiovascular disease risk.
Adequate Sleep Prevents Heart Disease
Again, along with a healthy lifestyle, quality sleep may help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Not getting enough sleep, as reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association, can promote calcium build up in the heart arteries, which can break apart and cause a heart attack. Yikes! Get your sleep! (Look out for my article tomorrow on how to prevent calcification of the arteries.)
Sleep Lowers Blood Pressure
When we relax our bodies and minds during 7-8 hours of sleep, we promote wider vasodilation in the blood vessels, causing our blood pressure to drop to healthier levels. Reduced sleep can increase cortisol levels, causing an increase in blood pressure, weight and decreased energy levels. Therefore, sleep is seen as an important part that should be integrated into an overall healthy lifestyle.
Decrease in Inflammation
One of the more exciting benefits of sleep involves its relation to decreasing inflammation in the body. Inflammation occurs when we eat too many carbohydrates (sugars, grains, fruit juices, etc.) and processed foods, breathe toxic fumes, use toxic beauty products, and engage in rigorous exercise. It ages the body and and promotes degeneration of joints, muscles and bones overtime. Sleep reduces this inflammation by relaxing the body (relaxation is a natural anti-inflammatory) and producing repair mechanisms that mainly occur during the sleeping state.
Sleep Decreases Depression
When we reduce the hours we sleep, we also reduce the time our minds need to relax and process the information it received during the day. Our circadian rhythms also get out of whack, and we reduce the levels of the “feel good” hormone serotonin, which is needed for a positive mood throughout the day.
Growth Hormone Production
Human growth hormone functions beyond growing the body during puberty, it’s also useful for adults who have already reached their growth potential. Another important benefits of sleep include its helpful applications in increasing growth hormone, especially during long, deep sleep. Growth hormone helps us heal and repair tissues and muscles after exercise or wounds, and also has been shown to be a powerful anti-aging hormone that can help reduce wrinkles, body fat and cholesterol levels. Another great way to increase growth hormone during sleep is to exercise during the day (intermittent fasting also increases growth hormone by up to 1000%).
Sleep Boosts Memory, Focus and Concentration
This benefit of sleep is great for me, a person who is constantly having to take in and absorb information so that I can apply it efficiently during exams. Our brains cannot run at optimal performance without rest, as our brains need breaks (especially that one long one during the nighttime hours) to help absorb and recall information easily. Sleep also helps us react quickly to situations, which is also beneficial during exams, times of stress, etc.
Improved Exercise and Athletic Performance
Studies have shown that those who receive at least 8 hours of sleep every night can exercise harder and longer and suffer less from fatigue than those who don’t get enough sleep. This can result in a lower weight and more energy, increasing not only quality of life but the quantity (in years).
Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to get to sleep, that’s where we can utilize natural techniques such as:
- Physical Exercise
- EFT (emotional freedom technique)
- Herbs like chamomile, rosemary and peppermint (as teas)
- Sunlight Exposure during the day
- Not eating too close to bedtime
- Avoiding stimulation an hour before bed (computer, cell phones, television)
If you are having trouble falling asleep, try any one of these methods (although I recommend all of them) and see what happens. There are also other natural supplemental methods, such as melatonin; however, these can increase blood sugar, so I would really advise against it.
The health benefits of sleep are diverse and include many benefits not spoken of here in this blog. If you want to read more about sleep and its importance (as well as other health benefits), read my post on why avoiding light during the night hours increases the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension and even cancer.
Do you notice differences in your day when you get too little, too much or just the right amount of sleep? Let me know – I’d love to hear it!
This is The Healthy Advocate.