Why your body needs sleep

Help for better sleep
Woman sleeps with quilt gathered up around her face

Sleep is the third point in the triangle of good health, along with regular exercise and a balanced diet.

Every one of us knows how we feel when we’ve missed some sleep or are suffering from interrupted sleep. You probably also know how everything just seems better when you’re sleeping well – your job, your relationships, your general well-being.

Sleep has been a hot-topic in recent times.

Authors, media outlets and health bloggers are constantly espousing the benefits of sleep. But scientists are only just recently beginning to understand the benefits of sleep for our bodies and brains. Or more importantly, the problems that we face when they don’t get enough sleep.

The cognitive effects of lack of sleep have been well documented.

Without sufficient sleep, your brain will be prevented from accessing old memories or committing new experiences to memory. Other brain impairments caused by lack of sleep include temporary lapses in concentration and visual perception.

Severe tiredness can mean that your mental capacity is so impaired that you would be as deficient as someone who was legally drunk behind the wheel of a car. Experts claim that up to 40% of fatalities on the road could be caused by tiredness.

A growing body of evidence also links bad sleep with signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain. Studies have found that sleep helps to rid the brain of the beta-amyloid protein that can build up while you are awake. This protein is strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep experts from the University of California have recently begun researching other physical damage when we lack sleep, such as impacts on our immune system.

After just one sleepless night, there is a 70% reduction in critical anticancer-fighting immune cells known as natural killer cells. Low sleep duration predicts your risk for developing numerous forms of cancer, a list that currently includes bowel, prostrate as well as breast cancer.

The link between lack of sleep and cancer is now so strong that the World Health Organisation has classified any form of night-time shift work as a possible carcinogen.

The medical evidence here is profound. Researchers even advise a change of career for night-time workers who are concerned for their health.

Lack of sleep also impacts your cardiovascular system because it is during deep sleep through the typical night hours where you receive a form of highly effective blood pressure medication.

Your heart rate drops, and your blood pressure follows. Without enough sleep, you don’t get that reboot of the cardiovascular system and you have a 200% increased risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke in your lifetime.

Not getting enough sleep also causes weight gain, which contributes to a decline in health.

In a recent study conducted by the University of Colorado Sleep Laboratory, a group of healthy adults who were limited to just 5 hours of sleep per night gained weight consistently, despite not changing their diets or exercise habits.

Poor sleep quality is strongly correlated with chronic skin problems, according to research from the University of Wisconstin.

Studies have also found that when skin is damaged by the sun or other factors, it doesn’t heal as well in poor sleepers, so those people wind up showing more signs of skin ageing. Hence the term ‘getting your beauty sleep’.

The evidence is clear.

You need around 8 hours of good quality sleep in order to be healthy. This means that it’s worth taking any steps that you need to improve your sleep. The most important one would have to be this: if your mattress is not comfortable, ditch it.

Investing in a good mattress is a pay-off that can lead to marked improvements in your health, your happiness and your life.

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