Health Benefits of Sleep
What are the health benefits of a good nights sleep?
Most of us know that we need a certain amount of sleep to help us get through the day. If you tend to have problems sleeping and suffer from interrupted sleep patterns, you will be completely taken aback by how good it feels to actually sleep for 7 or 8 hours without being disturbed.
After a really good night’s sleep you will wake feeling refreshed, full of energy and ready for your day. It is totally amazing the difference you will feel after a full night’s sleep. The health benefits of sleep however, go way beyond simply feeling better, because a good night’s sleep can have huge positive impacts on your life.
In the video below, Dr Robert Stickgold PhD from Harvard, spends 4 minutes telling us why a good night’s sleep is important.
Let’s take a look at some of the health benefits of sleep.
A good night’s sleep = a better memory
There have been many studies over the years looking into how sleep effects our health. It is now clear that uninterrupted sleep for a whole night helps us to learn and remember much better than interrupted sleeping patterns.
In other words, the better you sleep, the better your ability to learn and remember new information. It appears that a sleep helps us to learn and remember, because we can focus more clearly and that sleep helps us to consolidate our memory.
This means that once we have found new information, if we have enough sleep, the memory of what we have learnt becomes stable and is ready for recall when we need it.
Research has shown that acquiring information and recalling it, obviously occur when we are awake, but consolidation of what we have learnt – takes place when we are asleep. So it seems that when we sleep our memories become more solid.
The flip side of this is easy to anticipate – a lack of sufficient sleep will mean that we can’t focus enough to acquire new information and even if we do – we don’t sleep well enough for the memory of what we have learnt to become stable and fixed in our mind.
Knowing this we can understand how important it is for our children to have enough sleep, so that they can learn and remember at optimum levels. Maybe a good night’s sleep is all your kids need to improve their studies?
A good night’s sleep = a better concentration
Sleep is like food for our brain, the better quality food we give our brain, the more easily we can concentrate during the day.
We all know that concentration has a direct impact on our productivity and our performance at work, at school, university and in all areas of our lives.
Scientists have said for many years that Americans are heavily sleep deprived and it is one of the most overlooked health problems in the US. Many people have built up a serious case of sleep deprivation, which has direct consequences on our concentration, long term memory and our decision making processes.
If you think that catching a quick nap will make up for your sleep deficits and help you to concentrate better, then a study has found that the improvements in cognitive thinking, concentration and decision making are only transitory – you really need lots of sleep for any true benefit to become apparent.
Most people can’t function properly on less than 8 hours sleep a night, Dinges – the author of the above research – estimates that fewer than one in a thousand people can get by on less than 6 hours sleep a night and even then, they either become very sleepy in the afternoons or take a nap.
This means that most of us need to make sure that we consistently have a good night’s sleep, because having a nap isn’t going to help us very much at all.
A good night’s sleep = increased muscle growth
Did you know that your brain releases growth hormone into your bloodstream when we sleep? This means that we build and repair muscle tissue when we sleep. Growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland and promotes growth and maturation in children, s well as keeping our cells, muscles and tissues in good repair.
Growth hormone is generally only released into the bloodstream during sleep or exercise and since we are on the topic of sleep deprivation – a lack of sleep can interfere with this release of growth hormone.
Studies have shown that the amount of growth hormone we secrete into our body is affected by the amount of sleep we have each night. If we are sleep deprived, the cyclic nature of this release is impaired, resulting in slower cellular repair and muscle growth.
This is one reason why elite athletes do everything they can to have a good nights sleep every single night. It is also a good reason to ensure that our children receive a good nights sleep every night as well.
A good night’s sleep = increased fat loss
On of the factors important in whether we lose weight or gain weight is the amount of two hormones in our body – ghrelin (which regulates our hunger and is produced when we sleep) and leptin (which tells us when we are full).
Research has shown that when you don’t have enough sleep the balance between these hormones is altered. Too little sleep increases the amount of ghelin and decreases the amount of leptin, which increases our appetite and is likely to cause weight gain.
On the other hand, when we consistently have enough sleep, the balance between these hormones is correct and can help us to lose weight. So the take home message is that a good night’s sleep is not the gold plated solution to losing weight, but a bad night’s sleep can easily lead to weight gain.
A good night’s sleep = improved physical performance
We can all imagine that a good night’s sleep will help our sporting performances, giving us more energy and focus to do well in our chosen sport. Well scientists agree, because they have shown that sufficient sleep improves the athletic performance in basketball players, tennis players and football players.
This means that elite sports professionals who are sleep deprived, do not play at their optimum levels and are at a distinct disadvantage to spots athletes who have a good night’s sleep.
In our own lives, this can mean that a good night’s sleep will help out children’s performance in their chosen sports and also help them to enjoy playing competitive sports.
A good night’s sleep = reduced stress levels
Sometimes it can be difficult to know whether a lack of sleep caused stress or your stress caused you to sleep poorly. Whichever comes first – the chicken or the egg – we do know that stress and sleep are linked, with sleep deprivation linked with stress and good quality sleep linked with more manageable stress levels.
Not receiving enough sleep causes stress within your body, so your body is always on high alert, causing your blood pressure and cortisol levels to increase.
We all know that high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks and strokes, whilst continued high levels of cortisol can lead to reduced immune responses, cognitive function and metabolic disruption.
The problem is that a lack of sleep can equal increased cortisol which equals more stress which equals more sleep deprivation – and the circle continues.
The only way to resolve this cycle is to break it at one of the causal points, which means you either have to reduce your stress or (and) improve your sleep.
As you can see, there are lots of benefits of a good night’s sleep, but you do need this sleep to be consistent. If you are sleep deprived – read about how sleep sound machines can help you sleep better and check out my sleep sound machine reviews here.