Sleep is our body’s opportunity to rest, restore, and recover from all the day’s events. While we are sleeping there are numerous biological processes happening that prepare us for the next day.
- The brain stores and consolidates new information and gets rid of toxic waste
- Healthy brain function is supported by nerve cells communicating and reorganizing
- The body repairs cells and restores energy
- The body releases hormones, proteins, and molecules that regulate many functions including growth and appetite.
A good night’s sleep helps support:
Scientists are finding links between poor sleep and heart disease. While the exact causes are not yet clear a lack of sleep is associated with the following risk factors for heart disease:
- high blood pressure
- increased sympathetic nervous system activity
- increased inflammation
- elevated cortisol levels
- weight gain
- insulin resistance
Sleep is required for brain function. It allows your neurons, or nerve cells, to reorganize. Sleep also allows your brain’s glymphatic system to clear out waste from the central nervous system removing toxic byproducts from your brain, which build up throughout the day. Removing these byproducts allows your brain to work well when you wake up.
While we sleep our brain is busy converting short-term memories into long-term memories and erasing, or forgetting, information that is unneeded and would otherwise clutter up the nervous system.
Sleep is important for many aspects of brain function, including:
- problem-solving skills
- decision making
A healthy immune system depends on sleep. Cytokines are the proteins that fight infection and inflammation. When you sleep your body produces cytokines, antibodies, and immune cells. Working together these molecules help prevent sickness by destroying germs.
Sleep deprivation can inhibit your body’s immune response and make you more susceptible to germs and illness.
When you are sick or stressed, sleep becomes even more important as your body needs even more immune cells and proteins.
Sleep and mental health are intertwined. In a catch-22, sleep disturbances can contribute to the onset and progression of mental health issues, and mental health issues can also contribute to sleep disturbances.
During sleep, brain activity increases in areas of the brain that regulate emotion, thereby supporting healthy brain function and emotional stability.
For example, the amygdala, located in the temporal lobe, regulates the fear response. The amygdala controls your reaction when you face a perceived threat like a stressful situation. When you get enough sleep, the amygdala can respond in a more adaptive manner. When you are sleep deprived the amygdala is more likely to overreact.
Sleep keeps your cells healthy and may protect against insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when your cells don’t respond properly to insulin, a hormone that helps your cells use glucose, or sugar, for energy. Insulin resistance can lead to high blood glucose levels and eventually type 2 diabetes.
During sleep your brain also uses less glucose which helps the body regulate your overall blood glucose level.
Sleep controls your hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin increases the feeling of being full after eating and ghrelin increases the appetite.
Ghrelin decreases during sleep because you are using less energy than when you are awake.
Lack of sleep elevates ghrelin and suppresses leptin. This imbalance causes you to feel hungrier which increases your risk of eating more calories and gaining weight.
How much sleep do you need?
The CDC makes the following recommendations:
Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
- Try to stick to a sleep time routine. Try to get to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
- Don’t oversleep. Too much sleep can cause insomnia! Try cutting your time in bed by 1 hour for two weeks and see if this helps.
- Get rid of the bedroom clock. Set an alarm so you don’t oversleep but hide it (so you’re not constantly aware of the time or how much sleep you’re missing).
- Keep active during the day. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily but avoid exercise at bedtime.
- Wind down each day and learn to relax. Find ways to reduce stress and set aside time each night to unwind and relax from the day’s business. Take a hot bath, drink some herbal tea, or do a calming activity that you enjoy such as writing, reading or working on a puzzle.
- Stop trying so hard. The worst possible thing to do when you can’t sleep is to try and force yourself to sleep. Rather, read or watch TV until you feel drowsy and then try again.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants. Stop drinking coffee and tea at least 6 hours before bedtime. Nicotine, chocolate and sugar also act as stimulants and should be avoided. Alcohol interferes with sleep and can cause frequent waking and restless sleep.
- Good bedtime snacks include a glass of warm milk, banana or turkey sandwich, which all contain L-tryptophan and can help make you drowsy.
- Avoid naps. If you must nap, make it a power nap of no more than 20 minutes, and never after 3PM.
- Improve your sleeping environment. Invest in dark curtains to block out all light, earplugs if noises disturb you, and a comfortable mattress. Also ensure a comfortable sleeping temperature.
- Try a natural remedy like those found at Native Remedies.
Here’s to your good health – Sleep Tight!