Why Sleep is Important for Your Health

Are you getting enough sleep? Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to each of these questions:

  1. Can you wake up on time without an alarm?
  2. Are you alert all morning without wanting to fall back asleep?
  3. Can you function optimally in the mornings without caffeine?

If you answered ‘No’ to these questions it is likely you are sleep deprived!

How well you sleep has way more to do with your health than you think. Sleep is so critical to your body that when you are sleep deprived, your overall performance (both mentally and physically) deteriorates quite quickly.

Mental Impact

The first thing that suffers is your concentration. You’ll be more easily irritable and susceptible to stress. One night of poor sleep can wreak havoc on energy levels, mood, and hormone regulation (hello cravings!). Your judgment and response time also suffer, which can be quite dangerous considering the number of fatigue related traffic accidents that occur each day. Sleep deprived people also consistently underestimate the degree to which their performance is affected so you can’t tell how much it has declined.

Sleep has a significant impact on learning and memory. Studies show that sleep before and after learning is important to take what you learn and experience during the day and integrate it with all past experiences to improve your understanding of the world around you.

Our short term memory (hippocampus) has a limited capacity. When you sleep, your brain moves information from your short term memory to the long term storage centre of our brain (cortex). If you don’t get enough sleep to clear enough space in the short term memory, you will have trouble learning new information. On top of that, the older you get, the more challenging this process becomes. A lot of this process happens later in your sleep cycle so if you sleep less than six hours a night, you will likely have lowered learning capacity the next day.

Physical Impact

Sleep affects physical performance in many ways. Less than 8 hours of sleep a night has shown:

  • Time to exhaustion drops 10-30%
  • Significantly reduced aerobic output
  • Decreases in vertical jump height and peak muscle strength
  • Impairments in cardiovascular, metabolic, and respiratory ability
  • Faster rates of lactic acid build up
  • Reduced blood oxygen saturation + increased blood carbon dioxide
  • Impaired ability to cool yourself by sweating during physical exertion

Humans need more than seven hours of sleep at night to maintain physical and mental performance. After ten days of just 7 hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for 24 hours. People who consistently sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to suffer with mental illness, accelerated aging, weight management issues, poor immune system function, and a whole list of chronic diseases.

If you want to dive deeper and learn more about how sleep affects your health, ask me for my book recommendations!

AND Stay tuned next week for my tips to get better sleep!

– Dr. Lindsay