The Importance of Sleep
Today is World Sleep Day, and to celebrate LID Publishing have collated the best quotes from our author’s on the importance of sleep for your productivity, health and wellbeing.
The risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease have long been known to rise sharply in people who don’t get enough sleep. However, more recent research has revealed that a lack of sleep is also linked to obesity. Clearly, people who do not sleep aren’t lazier than people who do, so what is it that causes sleep-deprived people to put on weight?
The level of cortisol (a stress hormone frequently associated with weight gain) rises in people who don’t sleep well. This activates receptors inside the brain that make us hungry. Sleeplessness is thus responsible for running many a good diet.
It seems that sleep deprivation impairs activity in the frontal lobe so that the sleep-deprived lose the mental clarity to make good food choices. It’s a little like being drunk. In fact, if the average person stays awake for 17 hours a day, this has the same effect on their reactions as drinking two glasses of wine.
When the body is overtired, the amygdala region of the brain engages and attempts to compensate for the lack of energy reserves in the body by creating cravings for high-calorie foods. This might go some way to explain sheepish-looking business-folks making late-night visits to kebab shops.
The human immune system is also reliant on regular sleep. When we miss a few decent night’s sleep, it struggles to defend the body against foreign or harmful substances. If the lack of sleep is ongoing, it can actually change the way the immune system responds: many sleep-deficient people are unable to fight off common infections.
For most people, too little sleep is due to lifestyle choices rather than deeper psychological issues. So, if you’re missing out due to late-night working or because you’re binge-watching boxsets and can’t tear yourself away, you should probably take note – missing sleep is habit-forming and isn’t doing your general health (in both short term and long term) much good.
Create a sleep schedule that suits you and tries to stick to it – even at weekends. This will help to regulate your circadian rhythms (or ‘body clock’) and, in time, this will improve your quality of sleep.
In 2010, doctors in Britain issued more than 15 million prescriptions for sleeping pills. Since 200, sales of energy drinks have also increased by 75%. It seems we can neither fall asleep nor stay awake.
Given the pleasures of sleep, it amazes me how willing some of us are to give it up. UYes, we’re all busy. But when we’re tired we start to make bad decisions. We lose the ability to distinguish important work from unimportant work. Our workload increases, so we work even longer and sleep even less.
Sacrificing sleep to get more work done is a fallacy: with less sleep, you may have more time to work, but you have no cognitive competence with which to do it.
How much sleep?
“I need my sleep. I need about eight hours a day, and about ten at night.” Bill Hicks, American stand-up comedian
The vast majority of us perform best after seven to nine hours of sleep. Some people maintain they need less sleep, simply because we tend to be unaware of the degree to which our performance suffers.
The cost of sleep deprivation
Insufficient sleep is correlated with impaired logical reasoning, decision making, memory, attention, and reaction times. Sleep dent is also found to be cumulative; if you sleep for less than six hours a night for five nights in a row, you can expect your cognitive performance to drop to that of a person who hasn’t slept for 48 hours.
Over years of poor sleep, you suffer cortical atrophy. Your brain literally starts to shrink.
To cultivate a healthy relationship with sleep, it helps to understand your sleep. You probably already know that you sleep in cycles. During every 90-minute cycle, your brain shifts through different stages of sleep that correlate with different brain ‘ state’ as measured by EEG (electroencephalography) machines. Broadly speaking, you divide your sleep between periods of deep (slow-wave) sleep, and REM (rapid eye movement sleep).
The first few cycles of sleep, soon after you’ve fallen and characterized by a lot of dream sleep when your body produces the growth hormone. This helps promote physical restoration.
Subsequent sleep cycles, in the latter half of your night’s slumber, tends to involve a greater proportion of REM sleep, (associated with dreaming) and this promotes learning, memory and mental restoration.
Five sleep-cycles (seven and a half hours) allows for more cognitive restoration than four cycles (six hours), and consequently promotes superior mental function. Less than six hours, and you really start to suffer.
Wash while you sleep
Your brain also undergoes a toxin wash while you sleep. During your waking hours, your brain’s electrical and chemical activity produces a by-product, beta-amyloid, often referred to as plaque. While you sleep, your lymphatic system (your nervous system’s waste disposal system) flushes out neutral toxins and brings your brain’s toxicity back to healthy levels. If you don’t get enough sleep, you risk a progressive build up plaque. Once plaque levels reach a critical level, you are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
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