Sleep – The Most Important Action of Your Day

Growing up, many of us were brought up with the notion that sleep is vital for our daily physical growth as well as our emotional well-being. If anything, most of our parents and caretakers used to coax, threaten and cajole us to have an occasional afternoon nap especially during those hot summer afternoons when we didn’t want to anything else but play around. Fast forward and many of us seem to have forgotten the rejuvenating properties of a good night’s sleep. In a bid to make more money, read more books or watch more movies, a significant percent of adults today are sacrificing the time spent in bed for other ‘more important’ ventures. But is it really worth it?

The good people at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute conducted a study revealing a few interesting findings. For starters, contrary to what most people think or know, your productivity when awake is dependent on the quality of the sleep you get when resting. Think of sleep as the brain’s recovery phase, when it reorganizes, re-coordinates your body’s most vital processes that may have been disrupted when you were awake. And in teens and infants, a deep, restful sleep is all their need for that spurt of growth.

So even as you stay awake to study for that approaching test, or finish up that overdue assignment, have it at the back of your mind that chronic sleep deficiency could harm you more than you think. For those of us who have ever stayed awake for several days in the end, we are familiar with the impulsive, depression and risk-taking behavior spell that engulfs us until we finally hit the pillow.

And that’s not all. Studies show that people prolonged and repetitive sleep deficiency has more far-reaching consequences than most of us are aware of.

A rested brain is a healthy brain

It’s no secret that enough sleep assists your brain in working faster and better. In the most basic level, while asleep, the brain forms new neural pathways thus making it easier for you to learn and retain new information faster compared to when not resting. That also explains why most maths lectures in college and high school were slotted in the early morning hours when you’ve just rolled out of bed. Whether you’re learning how to play the piano, taking a ‘Tiger Woods’ signature golf swing or even just swimming, sleep is more of a friend than a foe.

Other than that, research shows that ample sleep improves one’s creativity, problem-solving skills and decision-making skills. You may also have noticed that you generally pay more attention in class or at work after a good night’s sleep.

For budding teenagers and folks in their early twenties, lack of sleep is associated with spurts of anger, impulsive tendencies, mood swings, depression and most importantly, trouble concentrating in class. In the most extreme cases of cases, long-term sleep deficiency in such young adults has close ties with suicidal tendencies and low motivation and self-esteem levels. In short, in case you didn’t know, how you feel, act and learn is to some extent influenced by how much sleep you get at the end of every day.

Of physical health and sleep

As far as your physical well being goes, sleep plays a vital role that cannot just be overlooked. For instance, numerous studies show that ample sleep is required for the repair and healing the heart’s worn out muscles, blood vessels, and cardiac tissues. Which, of course, means that a perpetual lack of sleep will often lead to increased chances of developing heart failure, kidney ailments, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure.

In the same vein, prolonged lack of sleep has been to obesity. In fact, for teens and young children, each hour of sleep lost means the odds of being obese and unhealthy later in life. In other age groups, a recent research shows that the occasional lack of sleep made losing weight harder than normal all other factors held constant.

Sleep also influences how your body maintains a balance between the two most important dietary hormones – ghrelin and leptin. If you don’t get ample of sleep, you’ll find that you often feel hungrier, more irritated and less satisfied than after a deep, restful slumber. And most often than not, this emanates from the fact that level of ghrelin (makes you feel hungry) goes up, and the level of leptin (gives a feeling of fullness) goes down after a spate of lack of enough sleep.

However, experts have more than once warned that the waters run deeper than that. There is now research evidence that shows that sleep also influences how your body reacts to physiological hormones such as insulin. And in this case, lack of sleep triggers a higher than normal insulin level that raises the chances of developing diabetes significantly.

Further, have it at the back of your mind that your body’s immune system relies on the quality of the sleep you get to stay functional. At the very least, an ongoing sleep deficiency changes how your immune system responds to common infections such as a simple cold bout.

Mental performance and safety

You probably have also noticed that you’re usually at your least productive self after a long night with little or no sleep at all. The weariness, boredom, and lethargic feeling that one feels after missing several crucial hours of sleep is enough to dull even the sharpest of minds.

A perpetual lack of sleep also induces micro sleeping. You know those brief moments of dozing off in class or at work for several minutes. In fact, some people microsleep without even knowing it. For example, have you ever sat through a class or went for a drive and then failed to remember part of the lecture or drive? That’s a typical spell of a micro sleep.

And speaking of driving, it is commonly accepted that a drunk driver poses less risk on the road than one who is sleep deprived or drowsy. While the drunk one is usually fully aware of their intoxicated state, the drowsy one may not even realize that they are sleep deprived. Which makes accidental crashes and mishaps more likely to happen when one is drowsy compared to when drunk.

The bottom line

The next time you’re tempted to pour yourself another mug of coffee and forego a good night’s sleep, remember that such a habitual sleep deprivation routine might not only harm you but also those around you.

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