Why is Sleep so Important to Your Physical and Mental Health?

Insomnia is a very common health issue with an estimated third of Americans regularly having problems sleeping. Around half of those might experience sleeplessness once or maybe twice a week, which is bad enough. But for the remaining half it’s an even more regular and therefore even more serious problem.

Here is what you need to know about why sleep is so important to the way you look, the way you feel and to staying healthy and alive. Following on from this is a plan to put an end to sleeplessness and start enjoying going to bed again.

The 5 Stages of Sleep

Sleep is where the body and mind is repaired, reordered and readied for the next day. Going without adequate amounts of it won’t just leave you tired and irritable, it can actually be dangerous, both to yourself and to others, and seriously deteriorate the quality of your life.

Sleep flows in five wave-like stages, often back and forth, throughout the night. Stage one is light sleep, where your body relaxes and breathing slows. It’s common to drift in and out of this stage early in the night when you first go to bed.

In stage two your brain waves become slower and your eye movements stop.

Stage three is characterized by very slow delta brain waves, with the occasional faster waves, while stage four is almost exclusively delta brain waves.

There isn’t any eye or body movement in these later deep sleep stages and it is difficult to wake someone from this state (it’s also quite disorientating for them and should only be done in emergencies).

These deep sleep stages are where your body is repaired and important physiological processes take place. However, the fifth stage of sleep appears to be more to do with your mind.

Independent of and quite different to these first four stages is REM sleep, characterized by the rapid eye movements that it is named after. During the REM stage your breathing becomes more shallow and irregular and your heart rate and blood pressure increase. This is primarily where you do most of your dreaming.

Research has shown that far from being unimportant, dreaming is vital to good mental health. It seems to be where your mind processes the events of the previous day and lack of REM sleep is associated with depression, anxiety disorders and other serious mental illnesses.

You really need your REM sleep if you want to feel your best the next day. Since REM happens at the end of a sleep cycle, getting only a few hours of rest in a night can mean we miss out on this vital phase.

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Why is Sleep so Important? – 7 Negative Effects of Lack of Sleep

While there is likely to be many more health problems that could be associated with insomnia, here are seven good reasons to turn of the TV, get to bed a bit earlier and get some more sleep.

1. Lack of Sleep Slows Down Your Mind

Even just one night of insufficient sleep can heavily impact on your alertness, attention span, concentration and problem solving capabilities the next day. People who regularly do not get enough sleep, particularly when they’re young, could be negatively affecting their intelligence levels and overall mental development.

2. Higher Risk of Accidents

Research has shown that issues with sleeping leads to more injuries on the job and a higher chance of traffic accidents. So when you don’t get enough rest and you drive the next day, you’re not just a risk to yourself, but to others as well.

Being tired behind the wheel can be just as dangerous as being drunk and the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that driver fatigue is the cause or significant factor in more than 100,000 car crashes and in over 1,500 road related deaths a year.

3. Heart Disease and Diabetes

People suffering from insomnia are considered to have a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack. In fact, a recent study published in the European Heart Journal found that those experiencing trouble falling asleep, problems staying asleep and not waking up feeling rested in the morning are three times more likely to develop heart failure over an 11 year period.

Diabetes has also been strongly linked to insomnia and lack of sleep. Though there is a valid question to be raised as to whether the prediabetic condition could be contributing to sleeplessness in the first place. It’s very important to visit a doctor and have the simple test if you experience extreme thirst, regular tingling in your hands and feet, blurred vision or constant fatigue, even after a good night’s rest, as these are possible indicators of diabetes.

4. Missing out on Sleep Can Make You Fat

Regularly sleeping less than six hours a night has been shown to increase hunger and appetite, particularly for high carbohydrate foods that promote excessive insulin secretion and lead to body fat storage.

One study found that those who slept less than six hours regularly were nearly 30% more likely to become obese than those who slept between seven and nine hours. Interestingly, after nine hours the benefits of sleep are actually reversed in the weight loss area so this may be an indication of the optimal resting time.

5. Insomnia Ages You

Most of us know that we don’t look our best after a very late night, but sleeplessness can have longer-term aging affects as well. When we are tired we tend to run on cortisol, the stress hormone. High levels of cortisol have been shown to break down the collagen proteins that ‘glue’ your skin cells together, leading to fine lines, poor tone and wrinkles.

Deep sleep is also needed to repair your skin and release optimal amounts of human growth hormone which affects, amongst other things, the firmness of your skin and the tone of the muscles underneath it.

6. Sleeplessness Affects Memory

During sleep the things you’ve learnt and the experiences you’ve had during the day are believed to be organized in your mind properly for future access. If you don’t get enough sleep tonight you may have trouble remembering clearly what you experienced today in the near future.

7. Depression and Sleep

Insomnia is also linked to developing depression. Some research has found that people who regularly reported an inability to sleep were five times more likely to develop symptoms of depression. There is again a question as to whether depression led to the sleep loss or vice versa. Regardless, getting a good amount of sleep is considered vital in treating depression effectively.

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7 Positive Benefits of 7 to 9 Hours Sleep a Night

1. More Alertness and Energy

Ditch the coffee first thing and just get a good night’s sleep. Waking up properly rested will greatly increase your energy levels, alertness and ability to concentrate.

2. Less Stress

In a related benefit of sleep, a well rested body generally produces less of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

Sleep at the end of the day is also needed to reduce cortisol levels with other hormones like serotonin. This makes getting to bed doubly important for minimizing stress in your life.

3. Greater Immunity and Less Disease

Your immune system that deals with invading pathogens and problems within your body needs proper sleep to work efficiently. Insomnia can heavily depress the immune system and leave a person vulnerable to various diseases and longer-term health problems. Conversely, extra sleep can help you recover from illness more quickly.

4. Maintenance and Body Repair

During sleep your body repairs itself from all the damaging dietary and environmental pollutants that our modern world exposes it to each day. At a cellular level you’ll start to run less efficiently the longer you go without proper rest.

5. Sleep Makes You Smarter

While your performance will probably suffer in areas where you need to use your brain, like tests or complex work projects, if you don’t get enough sleep, the opposite is true when you do.

A full night’s sleep organizes and makes connections within your mind to the information you received during the day. If you have a big test the next day probably the worst thing you could do is stay up all night studying for it as you’ll be unlikely to remember it well. To be at your best, do your main studying earlier in the week and get an early night before an exam or an important day at work.

6. Weight Loss and Rest

Getting to bed a bit earlier and getting a good night’s sleep can balance out the hormone fluctuations that provoke appetite. In fact, having proper rest is one of the best things you can do for losing weight. By ditching late-night TV, you’ll also have the added benefit of dodging one of those diet destroying late-night junk food binges as well.

7. Sleep Improves Happiness

Sleeping allows your brain time to get back into balance all of the necessary chemicals and hormones that affect your mental clarity, mood and emotions and are so important for being calm, relaxed and happy.

With lack of sleep so strongly associated with depression and mental illness, it’s not hard to see how getting an early night and some deep sleep can lead to a better day tomorrow

How Much Sleep?

The current best estimates for the ideal amount of sleep are between seven and nine hours. Under six hours a night is linked to significant health issues and conversely, going over nine hours regularly also increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other problems.

I personally find around seven hours best for me most of the year. In winter it’s closer to eight where it’s normal to sleep a little longer.

Going to bed earlier seems to be better as your cortisol levels are normally at their lowest by 11pm and it’s easiest to get to sleep before then. You actually want to be already in bed and asleep by this time to benefit from this natural rhythm of your body’s chemistry.

Ideally, go to bed around the same time and wake up without an alarm clock in the morning. Once you get into a good rhythm this will happen naturally, but until then you might want to set it as a backup for work, but try and get up naturally without it if you can.

Just a week or two of better sleep can make a massive difference to so many different elements of your life. Isn’t that worth skipping the late night TV repeats and waking up early enough to start off your day with plenty of time and relaxed? I think you’ll like the difference.

I hope this page has illustrated just why is sleep so important and how many areas of your life it impacts upon. Coming up next is some help with improving your sleeping environment and 5 specific things you can do to help you get a good night’s rest.

Article Provided by Health Ambition

Documentary Film Explores the Enormous Price We Pay for Ignoring the Need for Sleep

By Dr. Mercola

January 17, 2015

According to the documentary, Sleepless in America, coproduced by the National Geographic Channel, 40 percent of Americans are sleep deprived. Many get less than five hours of sleep per night. Percentage-wise, adolescents are among the most sleep deprived.

The consequences are dire, not just for the individual who isn’t getting enough rest, but for those around them as well. While most people don’t give lack of sleep much thought, there are in fact life-threatening consequences.

Notably, “experts now believe that sleep deprivation may have played a role in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Staten Island ferry crash, and the Three-Mile Island nuclear meltdown,” the film states. Countless people have also lost their lives to tired drivers who simply dozed off behind the wheel.

It’s important to realize that getting less than six hours of sleep each night leaves you cognitively impaired. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to health effects such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s,1and cancer. Depression and anxiety disorders are also adversely impacted by lack of sleep.

The Importance of Staying in Sync with Nature

Maintaining a natural rhythm of exposure to sunlight during the day and darkness at night is one crucial foundational component of sleeping well.

This was addressed in a previous interview with researcher Dan Pardi. In it, he explains how exposure to bright daylight serves as the major synchronizer of your master clock—a group of cells in your brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN).

These nuclei synchronize to the light-dark cycle of your environment when light enters your eye. You also have other biological clocks throughout your body that are synchronized to your master clock.

One reason why so many people get so little sleep, and/or such poor sleep, can be traced back to a master clock disruption. In short, most people spend their days indoors, shielded from bright daylight, and then spend their evenings in too-bright artificial light.

As a result, their body clocks get out of sync with the natural rhythm of daylight and nighttime darkness, and when that happens, restorative sleep becomes elusive.

An estimated 15 million Americans also work the night shift, and the adverse health effects of working nights are well documented. As just one example, three years of periodical night shift work can increase your risk for diabetes by 20 percent, and this risk continues to rise with time.

What Happens When You’re Sleep Deprived?

What makes sleep deprivation so detrimental is that it doesn’t just impact one aspect of your health… it impacts many. Among them are five major risks to your mental and physical well-being:

    1. Reaction time slows: When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re not going to react as quickly as you normally would, making driving or other potentially dangerous activities, like using power tools, risky. One study even found that sleepiness behind the wheel was nearly as dangerous as drinking and driving.2
    2. Your cognition suffers—both short- and long-term: A single night of sleeping only four to six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day. In one animal study,3 sleep deprived mice lost 25 percent of the neurons located in their locus coeruleus, a nucleus in the brainstem associated with cognitive processes.

Hence, if you’re sleep-deprived you will have trouble processing information and making decisions. This is why it’s so important to get a good night’s sleep prior to important events at work or home.

For example, research discussed in the film found that diagnostic mistakes shot up by 400 percent among doctors who had worked for 24 consecutive hours.

Sleep deprived medical residents also reported a 73 percent increase in self-inflicted needle sticks and scalpel stabs, and when driving home from work, they had a 170 percent increased risk of having a serious motor vehicle accident.

Research4 also suggests that people with chronic sleep problems may develop Alzheimer’s disease sooner than those who sleep well. One of the reasons for this is because sleep is critical for brain detoxification—a process during which harmful proteins linked to Alzheimer’s are cleared out

    1. Memory and learning declines: The process of brain growth, or neuroplasticity, is believed to underlie your brain’s capacity to control behavior, including learning and memory. However, sleep and sleep loss modify the expression of several genes and gene products that may be important for synaptic plasticity.

Furthermore, certain forms of long-term potentiation, a neural process associated with the laying down of learning and memory can be elicited in sleep, suggesting synaptic connections are strengthened while you slumber.

    1. Emotions are heightened: As your reaction time and cognition slows, your emotions will be kicked into high gear. This means that arguments with co-workers or your spouse are likely, and you’re probably going to be at fault for blowing things out of proportion.

The amygdala controls basic emotions like fear and anger. As discussed in the film, another area of your brain called your frontal cortex, plays a key role in the regulation of emotions, and sleep is vital for its function.

When you’re well rested, your frontal cortex is nicely connected to your amygdala—that deep emotional center—and works almost like “a break to your emotional gas pedal.”

Sleep deprivation causes a disconnect between these two brain centers, allowing your emotions to run amok. Sleep deprivation also plays an important role in mental illness, and tends to result in more adverse psychiatric outcomes.

    1. Immune function and health deteriorates: Sleep deprivation has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress or illness,5 which may help explain why lack of sleep is tied to an increased risk of numerous chronic diseases.

For example, research shows that sleeping less than six hours per night more than triples your risk of high blood pressure, and women who get less than four hours of shut-eye per night double their chances of dying from heart disease.6

You Need Around Eight Hours of Sleep Every Night

The studies are quite clear and most experts agree, you are seriously fooling yourself if you think you can do fine on less than eight hours of sleep. But eight hours of sleep is not eight hours in bed. If you go to bed at 10 pm and get out of bed at 6 am, you might say you’ve slept for eight hours. In reality, you probably spent at least 15-30 minutes falling asleep and may have woken during the night one or more times.

With the advent of fitness-tracking devices such as Jawbone’s UP, however, we now have access to actual sleep data (and more) from wristband users. The data is quite useful on a personal level and they helped me understand that I need to start getting to sleep around 9.30 PM if I hope to get a full eight hours of sleep, which I now typically do.

Newer devices, like Jawbone’s UP3 that should be released in early 2015, can even tell you what activities led to your best sleep and what factors resulted in poor sleep. It’s also fascinating on a larger scale, as the data reveal insights into sleep patterns from around the world.

The Glorification of Sleep Deprivation

According to the 2013 International Bedroom Poll by the National Sleep Foundation,7 25 percent of Americans report having to cut down on sleep due to long workdays. On average, Americans get only 6.5 hours of sleep on weeknights, but report needing 7.25 hours in order to function optimally. As noted in a previous article in The Atlantic:8

“For some, sleep loss is a badge of honor, a sign that they don’t require the eight-hour biological reset that the rest of us softies do. Others feel that keeping up with peers requires sacrifice at the personal level—and at least in the short-term, sleep is an invisible sacrifice.”

Modern man’s penchant for equating sleep with unproductiveness (if not outright laziness) can be traced back to the heyday of Thomas Edison, who was known for working around the clock. According to the featured article:9

“Edison spent considerable amounts of his own and his staff’s energy on in publicizing the idea that success depended in no small part in staying awake to stay ahead of the technological and economic competition.”  No one… did more to frame the issue as a simple choice between productive work and unproductive rest … 

Over time, children’s books and magazines began to promote this type of Edisonian asceticism… Edison encouraged all Americans to follow his lead, claiming that sleeping eight hours a night was a waste and even harmful. “There is really no reason why men should go to bed at all,” he said in 1914.”

This culture of sleep deprivation started with the invention of the light bulb, and has only gotten worse with the proliferation of light-emitting electronics, which disrupt your natural waking-sleeping cycle. The following infographic, created by, illustrates how your electronic gadgets wreak havoc on your sleep when used before bedtime.10

The Importance of Addressing Sleep Apnea

As discussed in the film, sleep apnea is another common cause of sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea is the inability to breathe properly, or the limitation of breath or breathing, during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea consists of the frequent collapse of the airway during sleep, making it difficult to breathe for periods lasting as long as 10 seconds. Those with a severe form of the disorder have at least 30 disruptions per hour. Not only do these breathing disruptions interfere with sleep, leaving you unusually tired the next day, it also reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, which can impair the function of internal organs and/or exacerbate other health conditions you may have.

The condition is closely linked to metabolic health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, and according to research,11 even a modest weight reduction can halt the progression of obstructive sleep apnea. Shedding excess pounds might even cure it, according to one five-year long study.12 That said, you do not have to be obese to suffer from sleep apnea. As discussed by Dr. Arthur Strauss, a dental physician and a diplomat of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine, factors such as the shape and size of your mouth, and the positioning of your tongue, can also play a significant role.

If your sleep apnea is related to your tongue or jaw position, specialty trained dentists can design a custom oral appliance to address the issue. These include mandibular repositioning devices, designed to shift your jaw forward, while others help hold your tongue forward without moving your jaw. Relief may also be found in the form of speech therapy treatment called oral myofunctional therapy, which helps to re-pattern your oral and facial muscles. For more information about this, please see my previous interview with Joy Moeller, who is a leading expert in this form of therapy in the US.

How to Support Your Circadian Rhythm and Sleep Better for Optimal Health

Making small adjustments to your daily routine and sleeping area can go a long way to ensure uninterrupted, restful sleep and, thereby, better health. I suggest you read through my full set of 33 healthy sleep guidelines for all of the details, but to start, consider implementing the following changes to ensure more shut-eye:

  • Avoid watching TV or using your computer in the evening, at least an hour or so before going to bed. These devices emit blue light, which tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Normally, your brain starts secreting melatonin between 9 and 10 pm, and these devices emit light that may stifle that process. You can also download a free application called F.lux13 that automatically dims your monitor or screens in the evening, which can help lessen the adverse effects if you have to use them in the evening.
  • Get some sun in the morning, and at least 30 minutes of BRIGHT sun exposure mid-day. Your circadian system needs bright light to reset itself. Ten to 15 minutes of morning sunlight will send a strong message to your internal clock that day has arrived, making it less likely to be confused by weaker light signals during the night. Also, if you work indoors, make a point to get outdoors for at least a total of 30-60 minutes during the brightest portion of the day.
  • Sleep in a dark room. Even the slightest bit of light in your bedroom can disrupt your body’s clock and your pineal gland’s melatonin production. I recommend covering your windows with drapes or blackout shades, or using an eye mask.
  • Install a low-wattage yellow, orange, or red light bulb if you need a source of light for navigation at night. Light in these bandwidths does not shut down melatonin production in the way that white and blue bandwidth light does. Salt lamps are handy for this purpose.
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom below 70 degrees F. Many people keep their homes too warm (particularly their upstairs bedrooms). Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 to 68 degrees F.
  • Take a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime. This increases your core body temperature, and when you get out of the bath it abruptly drops, signaling your body that you are ready to sleep.
  • Avoid electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom. EMFs can disrupt your pineal gland and its melatonin production, and may have other negative biological effects as well. A gauss meter is required if you want to measure EMF levels in various areas of your home. Ideally, you should turn off any wireless router while you are sleeping. You don’t need the Internet on while you’re asleep.
  • Use a fitness tracker to track your sleep. Chances are you’re not getting nearly as much sleep as you think, and using a fitness tracker that monitors your sleep can be a useful tool to help motivate you to get to bed earlier so you can get eight hours of sleep. When I first started using a fitness tracker, I was striving to get 8 hours of sleep, but my Jawbone UP typically recorded me at 7.5 to 7.75. Part of the equation too is going to bed earlier, as most of us have to get up at a preset time.

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