If the importance of our actions was judged by the amount of time we spend doing them, sleeping would be the unmatched contender for the top position.
While staying up all night and coming to work with bloodshot eyes might be somebody’s idea of toughness, sleeping well plays a big part in the mental and physical agility needed to do that very job.
In this article, we have discussed everything about sleeping and the effects of not doing so often enough. Let’s get into it.
Stages of Sleep
While everything may seem unchanged from the outside during sleeping, there’s a lot going on inside. Actually, during the 7-8 you sleep, you pass through multiple stages of sleep. Hence, it is important to have adequate time for sleeping so that you can pass through all of these stages.
While the positive effects of sleep and negative effects of its absence aren’t equally impacted by all of these stages equally, two of them are the most important. These stages are the ones that affect our learning capacity and memory:
- REM sleep: This stage is usually only a few minutes long and involves rapid brain activity resembling that of an awake person
- Non-REM: This stage is long and takes up to many hours. Both the brain and body are relaxed and activity levels are low.
Recommended Sleeping Hours
Here’s a list of the recommended sleeping times for all ages:
- Infants: 16-18 hours
- Pre-schoolers: 11-12 hours
- Elementary: 10 hours
- Teenage kids: 9-10 hours
- Adults (and the elderly): 7-8 hours
The Big Why?
While many of you may think that you don’t really need to sleep and can manage to have a full and active day with as little as 3-4 hours of shut-eye, it is just not true.
Recent studies have shown that not sleeping enough has dangerous and wide-ranging effects on the body. It can play a part in serious health conditions like obesity, heart disease, and psychological issues.
As a matter of fact, sleep caters to a lot of important functions for your body. It does so by release of hormones that control the following:
- Muscle recovery
Some people also treat sleeping like they treat a loan. They happen to think that you can always make up for any loss by sleeping more later on. It just doesn’t work that way.
Just like sleeping too little can be detrimental to your health, sleeping longer than 6-8 hours can also affect you in a negative way.
Effect on Appetite
Sleeping habits also have an effect on your appetite. In the usual diurnal sleep cycle, our activities are reduced due to sleeping. Our heart rate goes down, our muscles relax and our whole body just enjoys some downtime. A direct consequence of this is a reduction in both active and passive energy needs.
However, when you deprive yourself of sleep, both the brain and the body remain active. As a result, hormones that cause hunger are released and you have one of those late-night gluten-fests. You eat more and, over time, gain weight.
This phenomenon is equally present in children. According to research, kids who are deprived of sleep are obese more frequently than children who sleep well and enough.
Effects on Immunity
Your immune upkeep is also related to your sleeping habits. The immune system is responsible for defending your body against infections and diseases. People with good immunity are protected against diseases big and small while those with poor immunity are vulnerable to all sorts of infections.
While you’re asleep, your body releases immune compounds named cytokines. These cytokines protect and fight against inflammations which can be thought of as swelling of the tissues. Countering and reducing inflammation is a critical part of combating any infection. Hence, if you don’t sleep enough, your body may not release enough of these friendly fighters to help you out against enemy infections.
Similarly, white blood cells (which are the cells of immunity) count may also be affected by sleep deprivation over a prolonged period of time.
Without sleeping enough, your body does not produce the required number of cytokines. This leaves you at greater risk for getting sick. Similarly, the number of other immunity agents such as WBCs and antibodies also takes a hit over time.
Interestingly, they are also the agents that are involved in allergies and asthma. People with such conditions ought to be extra careful.
Athletes are also very mindful of sleep (“eat well”, “sleep well”). They know the role sleep plays in recovery and reduction of inflammation that comes with a tough physical regimen. You don’t only have to clang and bang and eat a whole lot of boiled chicken, you also have to sleep well.
Effects on Memory
Everybody knows that a well-slept person is able to maintain his focus for longer periods of time. However, you’d be pleased to know, it also improves learning and retention. Hence, students who think that studying all night long before the exam is a great idea should think twice before doing so.
Here’s a list of the effects that sleep deprivation can have on our neurological performance:
- Exhausted neurons have a hard time receiving and absorbing information
- Interpretation of events is altered
- Judgment is impaired
- Access to prior information is affected (“foggy brain”)
Just so you know, here are the three major types of memory:
- Sensory memory
- Short-term memory
- Long-term memory
Risk of Chronic Conditions
Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for some dangerous chronic conditions. Some of these include the following:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Diabetes mellitus
- Heart disease
Like healthy eating and regular exercise, sleeping is pretty much a habit. That means that you have to constantly work at it and take care of it. While it doesn’t hurt to lose a couple of hours every now and then, chronic sleep deprivation points to poor lifestyle choices and increased serious health risks.
Similarly, job-related stress, incessant worry, and an unbalanced work-home balance, stress, and worry affect both the quantity and quality of sleep you get. This, in turn, has a negative impact on overall health.
A Solution to All Your Problems
If you have trouble sleeping and would like to slumber more soundly than you usually do, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Sleeping schedule: While you may think that there is no such thing as a “bedtime” or, at least, not for adults, it is useful to keep and abide by a sleeping schedule. Try to ensure a consistent sleeping and waking time every day. That helps your body’s biological clock to adjust to a regular schedule. You may have heard of people who don’t need an alarm clock to wake up. That is because they have one right inside their brains. Even the Apple Watch can’t match that.
- Say no to stimulants: No, a cup of tea or coffee isn’t the best idea right before bed. Chocolate, caffeine, nicotine, and other such chemical stimulants keep you up past bedtime. Even alcohol shouldn’t be a drink of choice. While it may knock you for a loop initially, it affects the comfort and continuity of your sleep later.
- Comfortable sleeping surface: A lot of mattress brands in the marketplace these days stress increased comfort, with the word “comfort” being a catch-all term for suitable firmness, pressure relief, and support. Many mattresses also come with effective cooling technologies. These are a must for hot sleepers or for people living in steamy climates.
- Exercise regularly: Tiredness plays a big part in feeling sleepy and the modern, sedentary lifestyle doesn’t exactly give us an Olympic workout every day. As a result, most of us don’t really feel tired until the early hours of the morning. Adding a set time for exercise to your daily routine goes a long way towards giving you the requisite amount of physical activity. Hit the bed bone-tired and you won’t even remember when you fell asleep. However, do not go for a jog right before bedtime as that can have the opposite effect by leaving you too energized.
- Mental relaxation: While focusing on physical activities is important, mental relaxation and stress relief are equally imperative. You can try different strategies to unwind your mind and reduce some of that suffocating stress by adopting them. Some people open up to their diary while others meditate. Some enjoy long baths while others prefer a deep massage. Do what makes you feel good.
- Using technology to help you sleep better: Some mobile applications can assist you to monitor and improve your sleep. Sleep Genius is one such tool. It keeps a record of your sleep cycle and offers an interesting ‘smart’ alarm clock that prevents waking you up suddenly. You can also use a slow and melodious song to help put you to sleep. Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” comes to mind. Suit yourself.
Sleeping 7 to 8 hours every night has been proven as necessary for normal and optimum functioning. Depriving yourself of a good night’s sleep has both short and long-term effects whereas getting enough has been linked to a healthy and normal lifestyle.
It maintains your immunity, improves memory retention, and helps with weight loss. Remember, there’s nothing that a good night’s sleep can’t cure. Sleep tight!