Have you ever thought about how important a good night’s sleep is for our health and well-being? Most people take sleep for granted. But getting enough sleep is vital for the quality of our lives on many levels: physical, mental, emotional and relational.
When we are asleep, our bodies are actually very busy doing necessary repair work, rebuilding and regenerating themselves after a day of wear and tear. General tissue repair, skin regeneration (yes, “beauty sleep” is real), and heart and vascular rest and repair are all among the benefits of a good night’s sleep. During sleep, our bodies are producing necessary hormones. Two of the more interesting hormones currently receiving a lot of study are cortisol (anti-inflammatory and linked to eating behavior). Studies are showing that sleep deprivation leads to disruptions in the levels of these two hormones. They are also suggesting strong links to increased appetite, metabolic changes and weight gain (which might be due to the midnight snacking!). Have you ever noticed how we tend to sleep more when we are feeling ill? This is nature’s way of making sure that our immune system gets the extra boost of energy and support that it needs to fight off germs and infections. So, lack of sleep leaves us sluggish and slow, contributes to obesity and makes us open to whatever bug is going around.
Studies have shown that people who are well rested have better cognitive performance. They learn and process information faster, and retain it in the memory better. Motor performance, both in speed and accuracy, is better in a rested state when compared with impaired performance when tired. Judgment and decision making is often slower and less effective, and we are more prone to accidents when dealing with a state of sleep deprivation. So, lack of sleep can impair our concentration, slow or reflexes, influence our judgments, and even jeopardize our personal safety and the safety of others. The warning “Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery when drowsy” is there for a good reason.
- Emotional and relational
Research into brain waves during sleep indicates that activity in the centers of the brain that control our emotions and our social interactions is drastically decreased during deep sleep. This indicates that sleep may help a person rebalance the day’s emotions and thus maintain emotional stability and good social functioning. In contrast, the area of the brain that deals with imagination and dreams is quite active during the REM cycle. Psychologists who work with dreams and do dream analysis suggest that this is the self-regulating center which helps us process current issues in our daily lives.
They also believe that the brain is actively working on coming up with creative solutions and inventive ideas even while we are asleep (more about dreams in a future article). So, lack of sleep can lead to mood swings, increased anxiety, and highly emotional responses to frustrations. When we are exhausted, even the smallest task can look overwhelming. Extreme sleep deprivation has been tentatively linked with depression. On a relational level, we tend to become less patient with the behavior of others when we are not getting enough sleep. We react to people rather than respond to them. Communication and social politeness suffers. Here we often see an increase in anger and aggression in people who are normally mild and easygoing under rested conditions.
How much sleep per night do we actually need?
Most experts recommend 7-8 hours for most adults. However, some people can get along with a few as 5-6 hours, while others may need up to 10 hours. Occasional sleep disturbances are common throughout the population. But when they continue for an extend period of time, we are clearly dealing with sleep deprivation and a specialist should be consulted.
Marcie Sires has been a Psychotherapist-Sexologist, Holistic Wellness Counselor, and Communications trainer for over 25 years. She works with individuals, couples and families. She is also a corporate coach in Life5. For more information, please visit www.life5.eu.