The importance of good quality sleep for your well-being.
Dr. Christine White, DC
Have you ever wondered if you’re getting enough sleep? Chances are good that you aren’t. Research suggests that while we need 7.5 to 8 hours per night or more for optimal functioning, most people sleep less than 7. A recent study of early to middle aged adults in the United States found people slept an average of 5.1 to 6.7 hours per night. We are also sleeping less than we used to: 35 years ago the average American adult slept 7.7 hours per night. Factors such as longer work hours, commuting, social and family demands, and more time spent watching TV or on the internet, are all thought to contribute to this trend. While the occasional sleepless night isn’t cause for alarm, continually short-changing your body of its required sleep can have significant and wide-spread effects on your health, well-being, and quality of life.
Sleep is not an optional activity, and when deprived of it for long enough we literally shut down and die. Once thought to be a stagnant state, sleep is actually a time for ‘internal maintenance’. Our brains and bodies are incredibly active during sleep, recovering and repairing tissues from the stress of waking hours, keeping our hormonal and physiological rhythms functioning normally, and preparing for the next day. When we cut back on sleep we don’t allow our bodies time to fully recharge and over time this can take a serious toll on our health.
Sleep loss is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance, mental health and mood disorders, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, decreased immune system function, and many other chronic diseases and ailments. Cognitively, sleepiness leads to slower reaction times, thought processing, problem solving, and reasoning, decreased attention and efficiency, impaired decision making, and reduced ability to form new memories or recall previous ones. Changes in mood such as a tendency towards negativity, irritability, emotional volatility, depression, anxiety, and a lowered ability to cope with stressors are also seen with sleep loss, as are difficulties with interpersonal relations. Psychomotor skills, physical coordination, and pain tolerance all decrease as well.
Surprisingly, many of these negative effects start to become apparent after only a few nights of seven hours of sleep, and continue to worsen as sleep gets shorter and shorter. As well, these changes won’t go away by sleeping in on the weekend- it can take several weeks of adequate sleep for performance to return to normal. And the irony? Despite a measurable decrease in task performance, one of the first things sleep deprivation affects is your ability to determine whether or not you are sleep deprived! Even though we think we are functioning at a normal level, we are very likely not getting enough sleep, and very likely experiencing many of the negative effects of sleep loss. Fortunately, there is a simple way to counter the toll that sleep loss takes on our health: sleep more. Sleep study participants consistently report feeling less irritable, more alert and motivated, and have a more positive outlook when they are allowed to sleep 7.5 to 8 hours nightly. Their performance on cognitive tasks such as problem solving, reaction time, and memory tasks increases. With adequate sleep people feel less pain, resist viral and bacterial infections better, and are less likely to develop chronic health problems.
For further information, please contact one of your practitioners at evolve Nurturing Vitality®.