8 Reasons You Need Your 8 Hours
If you’re at all like me, we might as well be walking around waving giant flags that read “don’t talk to me until I’ve had my morning coffee” in big letters with a thick exclamation mark. I usually wake up extra cranky after a night of little sleep, with a side of messy bed head and matching deep purple eye bags. However, falling comfortably into a deep slumber isn’t just for beauty...turns out it’s for brains, too! Committing to getting between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation, is a behavior change that directly affects your physical, emotional, and social intellectual dimensions of health and wellness. Let’s go over why staying well rested is important. I know there isn’t enough time in the world to catch all your z’s, so I’ll make it quick!
1. Weakened immune system
When you sleep, your immune system releases cytokines, which are proteins that help promote growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells. Basically, cytokines are responsible for telling your immune system how to do its job. Your immune system is your body's way of protecting you from diseases and other harmful pathogens that might make you sick. Chronic sleeplessness can result in a decrease in production and secretion of cytokines, making you more susceptible to sickness after being exposed to an invasive pathogen, like the flu, and it may even prolong your recovery time.
2. Decreased alertness
There is a direct relationship between sleep and memory. While you sleep, your brain forms new pathways between neurons and processes information, including various experiences and things you learned from that same day, and stores that new information. Since your brain is lacking the time it needs to consolidate things you learn day-to-day, it can’t perform at its full potential and you’re unable to process information as well as you normally would. This compromises your productivity, concentration, ability to retain new information, and coordination, leading to a decrease in alertness and poor performance at work, school, on the field, and even on the road.
3. Crankiness and other mental health effects
Mood swings, impatience, short tempers, and display of irrational emotions are all side effects of sleeplessness. Other psychological effects include anxiety, depression, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts. Sleeplessness can also negatively affect your decision-making skills, leading to further impaired behavioral and emotional control.
4. Hormone dysregulation
Sleep impacts levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Poor quality sleep hinders your ability to regulate cortisol and can cause you to release more stress hormones during the day leaving you more stressed. Chronic stress is a common risk factor for high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, which are all risk factors for heart disease. It also negatively affects your appetite-controlling hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is released to signal that you’re full, while ghrelin is released to signal you’re hungry. Sleep deprivation causes a greater release of ghrelin, telling your brain that you’re hungry, and a decrease in leptin release, hindering your body’s ability to recognize it is full.
5. Changes in diet
Sleep deprivation affects your striatum, which is the reward center in your brain. This can increase your cravings for sugary and high-fat foods. These cravings, in combination with dysregulation of appetite-controlling hormones that prompt you to feel less satiated and more hungry, cause an increase in appetite during the day. In addition, sleeplessness also affects your behavioral and emotional control, leading you to make dietary choices you might not usually make, like eating out of stress or emotion. All of this can lead to overeating and unwanted weight gain.
6. Tissue recovery
We know sleep is important for protection against infections, but it’s also important for tissue growth that helps your muscles heal after a tough workout. Sleep deprivation can prolong muscle and injury recovery time the same way it increases recovery time from illness, leaving you more susceptible to prolonged periods of muscle fatigue and at greater risk for physical injury.
7. Low energy levels
Without sleep, your brain and body aren’t getting enough time to rest and relax, leaving you both physically and intellectually drained. Your organs and tissues aren’t given enough time to repair and your muscles become increasingly fatigued and your brain more foggy. This makes you more likely to skip the gym or go out to a social event due to lower energy levels.
8. Last but not least...beauty sleep!
Sadly, staying up for long periods of time does have an affect on your physical appearance. It can tire your eyes, causing them to feel more dry and irritated, and appear puffier and red. Sleep promotes tissue recovery, including healing from skin problems like acne and other wounds. Chronic sleep deprivation increases stress and cortisol levels, which can cause hair loss, acne, and speed up the aging process leading to dry skin and wrinkles. Some of this damage may even be irreversible.
Chronic lack of sleep can lead to many adverse health effects that detrimentally affect longevity. These effects include weakened immunity, poor physical appearance, changes in appetite and diet, and poor behavioral and emotional control. With all that being said, planning ahead to catch your recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night overall supports proper brain function, promoting good long-term physical and mental health in the long run.
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Written By: Natasha Greeve, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern