We've talked about sleep a lot before, and for good reason - the importance of good quality sleep cannot be overstated. While having a consistent sleep schedule can impressively improve many aspects of daily life, it can also cause all kinds of problems if neglected. In this post, we're going to go over some of the main reasons why you might need to get more rest:
1. Improved concentration & focus
Sleep deprivation can cause difficulty when concentrating and slower reflexes, because the brain hasn’t had the time to recover and consolidate the previous day. In extreme cases, too little sleep can also lead to disorientation, confusion, and reduced motor skills. On the other hand, good sleep will improve focus, problem solving ability, and maximise concentration, as well as also giving you a sense of more energy throughout the day. Creativity is also tied closely with sleep - when you have a problem or decision to deal with, the idea of “sleeping on it” is actually very much a good idea, and allows your brain to creatively process whatever it is you’re stuck on overnight.
Research has also shown that there is a clear link between sleep, and learning & memory. When we go to sleep, our minds use this as a time to gather and store memories from the day, allowing us to retain information from our waking life. This is essential when it comes to learning new things - you’ve probably stayed up late before to try and study longer for an exam, or complete some work to be as productive as possible, but actually this can end up having the opposite effect. When we deprive our brains of the resting time it needs to actually collect and sort this new knowledge, you’ll find it much harder to remember or pick up the previous day’s work in the morning.
2. Boosted immune system
The immune system is our natural line of defence against illness and bodily damage. Responsible for fighting off illness, infection, and healing wounds, it’s vital to keep this system in the best working order possible - and it happens to be at its most efficient when well-rested. During sleep, our immune system builds adaptive immunity, efficiently responds to vaccinations, and reduces impact of other possible irritants such as allergies.
When we reach the deep sleep stage, muscle activity slows down to conserve energy; energy that can be used by the immune system overnight to speed up its processes. A lack of sleep doesn’t allow this system to reset properly, and can ultimately lead to an increased vulnerability to illness and longer recovery.
3. Improved mood
The relationship between mood and sleep can be complex. Bad sleep can lead to feelings of worry and stress, which in turn can lead to difficulty sleeping, in a fairly unpleasant circle. In the short term, this tiredness can cause irritability, low mood, anger, sadness, and can also lead to longer term conditions such as anxiety and depression over time.
Research has shown that even those with a healthy sleep schedule can experience all these feelings after just a single night of lost sleep. However, once properly rested again, these symptoms can be dramatically alleviated. If you are struggling to get sleep because of other factors, such as stress from the day keeping you up, then you might also need to take steps to reduce bad habits or avoid stress triggers during day-to-day life. Fortunately, we’ve written another blog post all about how to do this, full of useful and practical ways to manage it.
4. Healthier heart
A regular and consistent sleeping pattern has been proven to reduce risk of longer-term heart disease and help maintain heart health. In the same way the immune system uses sleep to recover, so do a whole host of other systems in the body, including the heart and respiratory functions.
If you’re regularly sleeping less than 6 or 7 hours per night, it’s possible that you’re putting yourself at increased risk of issues like asthma and heart disease. When we sleep, our breathing and heart rate slows down and blood pressure drops. If you’re having troubled sleep or you're waking up regularly, this means your blood pressure is staying higher for longer. This is one of the leading causes of heart issues and could lead to increased risk of heart attack or stroke. There is also research to suggest that sleep is vital for regulating blood sugar levels and avoiding conditions such as diabetes.
5. Better diet & weight management
Bad sleep has been shown to disrupt the hormones that regulate appetite and affect blood sugar levels, meaning you’re more likely to overeat or struggle to manage your diet.
Sleep is needed for balanced regulation of leptin and ghrelin, which are the hormones that are essential for appetite management. In simplified terms, ghrelin is the chemical that makes us feel hungry, and leptin is the one that lets us know when we feel full. A bad night’s sleep will throw these levels off, making us feel hungrier than we actually are and less full up after eating - this makes overeating very easy when sleep deprived, often without even realising it.
There's much more that can be said for a good night's rest. If you think you might need more sleep than you're currently having, have a go at getting to bed an hour or so earlier for the next few nights - chances are you'll find yourself in a much better headspace by the end of the week.