We should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep – that’s what we’ve all been told. How many of us are actually getting in that many hours of quality sleep?
Human beings are the only species on the planet that intentionally deprive ourselves of sleep instead of listening to our body’s queues, and that may be in part due to the fact that we don’t actually know all of the incredible things that sleep is doing for our bodies. Think about it this way – if you were denied either food, water, exercise or sleep for 24 hours, which would have the most significant negative impact? By far a lack of sleep would take the biggest toll on your body.
Though we think of sleep as an opportunity for us to rest, which to some extent it is, our brains are actually up to 30% more active overnight. This is because during sleep it’s working to provide a whole host of benefits for your mind and body. One such benefit is producing more natural killer cells, the things that attack viruses and unwanted intruders in your body.
They’re basically what make up your immune system. By extension, longer sleep actually means longer life! It also improves your cognitive functions like memory and reduces your cortisol level (the stress hormone). This is why people who get more sleep tend to be calmer and better able to deal with adversity.
Just the tiniest change in sleeping patterns can have a massive effect on your health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that getting only 4 hours of sleep for just one night sees a 70% decrease in your immune health, and less than 6 hours results in a 200% increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. It also has a huge impact on mental health – sleep troubles are part of every single psychiatric condition.
It’s important to remember that you can’t catch up on sleep – once it’s gone, the benefits are gone for that night and sleeping well the night after won’t give you back what you’ve lost. The good news is that it’s never too late to start sleeping better, no matter how bad your sleeping schedule has been in the past.
It’s incredibly important that your sleep is consistent – go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time, even on weekends (at least for the first little while). It may sound impossible or like it’s too much effort, but once you build the habit you will have created neurological pathways that encourage sleep, making it hard to break the habit.
If you suspect that you may have a sleeping condition such as insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much), make sure to consult your doctor. Whether or not you have a diagnosable condition, practicing good sleep hygiene is guaranteed to benefit you.
Give it a try and see how much better you feel!