The Importance of Sleep
“Sleep is the elixir of life. It is the most widely available and democratic powerful healthcare system I could ever possibly imagine.” - Matthew Walker
It is relatively common knowledge that sleep is essential, yet rocking up to work bleary-eyed and exhausted seems to be an all too common occurrence nowadays.
Stimulants, including coffee and energy drinks, alarm clocks, mobile phones, commutes, jobs and snoring partners are among the obstacles between you and a good nights sleep.
As a generation, we seem to have accepted that due to our hectic lifestyles, we don’t have the time to get a full night sleep each night and learn to make do.
We at FFF are here to give you the A to Zzz’s of sleep and highlight just how important it is to ensure you have a soothing slumber.
What is sleep?
The oxford dictionary defines sleep as - “a condition of body and mind which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended”.
It can be broken up into 5 phases - each stage becoming progressively deeper. When we first drift off, we go into non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). The first 4 phases are NREM, and it is during these phases eye movement, muscle activity and brain waves begin to slow. Stages 3 and 4 are also known as slow-wave sleep, and this provides the most restorative sleep as our bodies produce growth hormones, regulate immune system function, and develop and repair muscle tissue during these phases.
We then move into REM sleep, generally around 90 minutes after going to sleep. This phase is said to be essential for both mental and emotional development.
Each sleep cycle lasts around an hour and a half and to wake up feeling rested; we must experience all of the stages mentioned above.
Sleep requirements vary from person to person, but adults should aim for between 7-9 hours each night.
Why do we need it
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is crucial for optimal health and well-being. That being said, many of us seem to be guilty of depriving ourselves week in and week out until our bodies are both physically and mentally exhausted.
Sleep is needed for several reasons, namely to allow your body to unwind physically and recover from the day’s activities, but also to allow your heart and cardiovascular system to relax. Sleep is curative for your brain and enables the body to heal damaged cells.
Why is sleep so important?
A growing body of research supports the links between sleep, immune function and inflammation. Lack of sleep is thought to detrimentally affect host defence mechanisms and heighten susceptibility to pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) and increased inflammation. Sleep deprivation causes interferences with many of the body’s biological processes and systems – all, in turn, will harm your health. Poor sleep has been attributed to weight gain. It has been suggested that the number of hours sleep you get each night may influence body weight and metabolism.
Taheri et al. (2004) studied American adults between the ages of 30-60. They found participants with short sleep had reduced leptin (appetite hormone that signals the feeling of fullness) and increased ghrelin levels (appetite hormone that signals the feeling of hunger). The observed changes in hormone levels are likely to increase appetite, potentially explaining the weight gain observed in the participants.
Science aside you’re far less likely to drag yourself to the gym or spend time cooking healthy meals (cue FFF) when you’re tired, are you?!
What are the consequences of lack of sleep?
One of the main downfalls of not getting enough sleep is the all too familiar feeling of drowsiness. Many start to feel irritable, snapping at friends and colleagues over the smallest of things. Others even report feelings of depression when lack of sleep is endured over a more extended period of time.
Failing to get a restful night of sleep can lead to a reduction in productivity at work, as we may find it increasingly tricky to take in new information, remember things or exercise effective decision making.
Getting a decent night sleep each night should be up there with your goals to eat more healthily and increase your exercise frequency. It may not be feasible to get 8 hours every night, but aim to get into a better routine and allow yourself time to relax and unwind – you’ll feel the benefits in no time!
- Walker, M. (2018). Why we sleep. [London]: Penguin.
- Benca, R. M., & Quintas, J. (1997). Sleep and host defences: a review. Sleep, 20, pp.1027–1037.
- Ali, T., Madhoun, M., Orr, W. and Rubin, D. (2013). Assessment of the Relationship Between Quality of Sleep and Disease Activity in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Patients. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, 19(11), pp.2440-2443.
- Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T. and Mignot, E. (2004). Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. PLoS Medicine, 1(3), pp.62.