In a fast-paced culture where success is often measured by the piling up of achievements and being busy is a badge of honor, sleep is often put on the back burner. Though most would agree that sleep is a necessity, it is often surprising just how important it is. That may be why many people aren’t getting enough of it.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that 35% of adults in America, and a staggering 68% of those under the age of 18 suffer from short sleep duration. That means a large number of people are getting only seven or less of the recommended eight hours of sleep per evening. The masses missing out on their pillow time are not only missing out on major benefits, but they are also setting themselves up for having issues.
Risk Factors for Undersleeping
The first reason to get more sleep is one of preventative action. Inadequate sleep can lead to a host of health-related problems. The body uses sleep as a time to repair, recover, and prepare for the next day. Without this time it begins each day at a deficit. Consider some simple Math using an imaginary man named John to illustrate the problem:
John sleeps 6 hours a night each night. How much sleep is he getting over the course of a year?
6 x 365 = 2,190
He’s getting 2, 190 hours of sleep when he should be getting at least 2,920 hours. That is a 730-hour deficit! Even more distressing is the way it accumulates.
On the second day of the year, he wakes up after six hours of snoozing. John feels fine and goes to bed late again. On day two he is now four hours in the deficit. By week three John has missed out on 28 hours of sleep, or in other terms the equivalent of more than three whole evenings!
Although sleep doesn’t calculate on a rolling basis, the truth is that it is rare to get a consistent amount of sleep each evening. Some nights may log ten hours, while others accumulate only five. Over time lack of sleep does add up and leads to the following health risks.
Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain in otherwise healthy individuals. Both Harvard and the CDC site studies indicating that people who sleep less than six hours per night on average are much more likely to retain fat.
One reason for this is the lack of time for the body to recover. Sleep is a time for processes to occur that purge stress hormones, regenerate healthy balance and provide much-needed rest. Without sleep, the lack of recovery and reduction in cortisol adds up over time.
In addition to being more likely to gain weight, those who chronically undersleep are at greater risk for diabetes as well.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that significantly changes the lifestyle of its sufferers. It affects the rest of their lives including:
- What they can eat.
- How much they can eat.
- Their level of activity.
- Which activities can be engaged in.
- Circulation, digestive, and other bodily functions.
Although sleep is not a cure for diabetes, the link between undersleeping and being at risk for the disease has been made. Therefore, more sleep can help prevent it from ever occurring. Some other chronic diseases linked to inadequate amounts of rest include:
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Increased blood pressure.
- A reduced immune system function.
Lack of Mental Clarity
Physical manifestations are just one aspect of sleep sufferers. Mental clarity is also affected by the amount of sleep people do or don’t get. The brain’s functionality is slightly impaired when it does not get enough rest and the symptoms exacerbate over time.
Those missing out on sleep may feel like their mind is working slowly or trudging through thick mud. This presents in symptoms such as:
- Decreased reaction time.
- Inability to access short-term memory.
- Struggling to find the right word.
Fortunately, many of these side effects can be prevented by getting adequate sleep. Not only can enough sleep mitigate risks, it also has some great additional benefits!
Benefits of Sleep
Just how much sleep is enough sleep? Studies indicate that for most people eight hours or more a night is ideal, and seven hours is sufficient for sleep on average. Although each individual’s needs and body are different. The more physically and mentally exhausting a person’s day is, the more essential quality sleep becomes for them.
Yet all people can reap the benefits of sleep. Here’s what they are.
It Keeps You Healthy
The cure for the common cold is to wait it out, but the way to keep it at bay is to snooze regularly. Sleeping seven hours or more a night increases immune system function and helps to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Increased Sex Drive
Libido affects more than just the bedroom. An increased sex drive is one sign that the body’s hormonal balance is intact. Balanced sex hormones relate to mood, body composition, and sex drive. Therefore an increased sex drive as a result of sleep will have the added benefits of a better mood and less weight gain over time.
Improved Mental Well Being
Mental well being refers to the overall mood, feeling of satisfaction, and the ability for the mind to function properly. More sleep is synonymous with more clarity in all of these areas. When the brain is fully functioning people are able to make better decisions and engage in healthier choices. This plays out in all aspects of life. Take driving, for example, a brain that is fully rested will be more capable of avoiding a deer suddenly running on the road as well as stay calm during backed up traffic.
The positive effects of getting enough sleep are numerous and go way beyond the realm of health.
The four surprising reasons for getting enough sleep are:
- Prevent risk factors such as weight gain, chronic disease and lack of mental clarity.
- Gain health through a boosted immune system.
- Increased sex drive and the resulting mood boost and body composition improvements.
- Improved mental wellness, including mood, reaction time and emotional regulation.
Those are great reasons, but how can it be achieved?
Strategies for Getting More Sleep
Here are some simple strategies to improve the amount and quality of sleep.
- Turn off electronics to avoid overstimulation and the input of blue light.
- Have a drink that comforts you such as tea or warm milk.
- Create a routine and stick to it so your body knows when to wind down.
- Eat low glycemic foods for dinners such as kiwi, jasmine rice or tart cherries.
Most importantly, make sleep a priority. Put energy into getting more sleep to reap the benefits of it all.