Do you wake up tired every morning? If you answered “yes,” you’ve got company. In fact, 45 percent of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep affects their daily lives, according to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation.
Sleep deprivation affects us in short- and long-term ways. Over time, a lack of sleep negatively impacts your life and causes damage to the body, leading to chronic health problems.
Here are five reasons why sleep is vital to your health and wellbeing.
Your Brain on Sleep Deprivation
A lack of sleep leaves your brain exhausted and has a major impact on brain health. While you sleep, your brain rests busy neurons and creates new pathways. This allows you to wake up refreshed and ready to face the day.
Without enough sleep, your brain can never rest and repair. Notably, cognitive brain function – mental processes, memory, judgment, and reasoning – are negatively impacted. Creativity is also stifled. Even more concerning, a long-term effect of sleep deprivation is an increased risk of hallucinations.
Sleep & Weight Management
How many people do you know who just can’t seem to lose those last few pounds? Or, have slowly watched the scale rise year after year. Perhaps you’re one of them. If no amount of diet or exercise work… a lack of sleep may be the culprit in an inability to lose weight.
According to research, short sleep duration and poor sleep quality are risk factors for becoming overweight. A lack of sleep increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol and lowers levels of the hormone leptin, which signals to the brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Sleep deprivation raises the biochemical ghrelin, an appetite stimulant.
So, if that scale won’t budget, evaluate your sleep length and quality. Combined with a healthy diet and moderate exercise, it might be the missing link to losing weight.
Immune Function & Sleep
When you sleep, your immune system produces protective cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies and cells. It uses them to fight off infections from bacteria and viruses. These cytokines also help you sleep, providing the immune system with more energy to defend against illness. A lack of sleep equates to a weakened immune system.
Studies from Mayo Clinic show that insufficient sleep weakens the body’s ability to fight off foreign invaders and may lengthen recovery time when you get sick. Long-term, chronic sleep deprivation raises the risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes. Diabetes, a U.S. epidemic, is higher with sleep deprivation because a lack of sleep signals your body to release more insulin after eating. This promotes fat storage and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The Connection to Mental Health
Sleep allows your brain to regulate mood and process emotional information and experiences into memory. A lack of sleep is linked to increased emotional disturbance and reactivity. Sleep problems also increase the risk of depression. Data indicates that 65 to 90 percent of adult with major depression and about 90 percent of children with major depression have a sleep problem.
Chronic sleep problems affect 50 to 80 percent of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, as compared with 10 to 18 percent of U.S. adults in the general population, according to Harvard Medical School. For patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sleep problems are very common.
Impact of Sleep Loss on Relationships
A sleep study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that a lack of sleep may impact our expressions of gratitude and make people more selfish. This can strain relationships leaving people feeling like they’re being taken for granted.
Another study featured in the Journal of Family Psychology found when 68 newlywed couples got above-average sleep, they were more likely to feel satisfied with their marriage the next day. Satisfaction levels were based on factors like conflict resolution, affection, dependability, sex and chores; as well as satisfaction in their marriage and partner overall.
Making sleep a priority is not selfish or weak, it’s as vital as breathing and eating to our health and wellbeing. Here are a few tips on how to prioritize sleep in your life.
- Don’t read on your smartphone, tablet or a computer before bed – the light it emits can interfere with sleep.
- Avoid mentally stimulating content an hour or so before bed time.
- Make your bed in the morning and launder your sheets often so that you are greeted with a welcoming fresh bed each evening.
- Meditate for five to 10 minutes prior to going to bed to clear and calm your mind.
- Journal for a few minutes before bed to relieve your mind of worries and concerns.
- Try some simple deep breathing exercises.