Each of us has had a bad night’s sleep at some stage. We all know how it feels. You wake up bleary-eyed with a banging headache and it can feel like an uphill struggle even to get out of bed – let alone make it to the end of the day!
One bad night’s sleep however won’t do you much harm. Nothing a good night’s rest won’t fix. What fewer of us realise however is the tremendous impact that constantly sleeping poorly can have on both our physical and mental health.
Below we take a closer look at exactly why a good night’s sleep is key to good health…
Sleep boosts the immune system
At night while we rest our bodies go to work. While we are dreaming of scoring the winning touchdown at the Superbowl or marrying Chris Hemsworth, or both, inside our cells are busy repairing themselves from the hardships of the day gone past. Not only that, numerous processes take place that prepare us for the following day.
A lot of these processes have to do with the immune system. One such is the production of T-cells, the guys charged with repelling foreign invaders such as the bacteria and viruses that cause colds or flu. When we sleep badly this process is interrupted and our immune system is impaired leaving us more vulnerable to viruses and less able to recover from them.
Thanks to advances in medical science we now know more than ever about the connection between sleep and health, and fortunately many good resources now exist to promote and encourage a healthier attitude to rest.
Sleep protects the heart
While catching a few more sniffles during cold season may not seem like such a terrible thing, the dangers of having an impaired immune system don’t stop there. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to a greater risk of developing heart disease and having heart attacks
The exact mechanisms at play here are quick complex and are still debated by medical science. One of the more straightforward theories relates to blood pressure. While we sleep our blood pressure drops as the heart has less work to do. If we stay up longer, or wake frequently, our blood pressure rises and our heart has to do a lot more work.
What this means is that over time two individuals of the same age and similar physical design may have hearts that have done considerably different amounts of work. Purely because one has slept well and the other has slept badly.
If you think of your heart in mechanical terms, the more work it has to do the quicker it will wear out. So why not give your heart a rest and head to bed early tonight.
Sleep helps us maintain a healthy weight
Sleep and weight gain have strong links. Firstly, a tired individual has considerably less willpower and is far more likely to reach for snacks with a high-calorific value, such as bag of chips or donut, to give them a energy boost.
Unfortunately, even if a sleep-deprived individual retains the strength of will to avoid temptation they are still at a greater risk of piling on the pounds. Sorry to say!
Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that our very cells function differently when tired. In particular our fat cells suffer from a condition termed as ‘metabolic grogginess’.
Metabolic what I hear you say! What does this mean? Well, without getting bogged down in too much jargon, when overtired our body loses the ability to properly process the hormone insulin. The result of this is that the fat in the food we eat isn’t utilized properly for energy and ends up getting stored in all sort of places we don’t want it to. Thus making us fat.
And if that isn’t enough, one of the places we don’t want fat to get stored in is the tissue of our liver, as unfortunately the consequence of this over time is diabetes. Yikes!
Sleep reduces stress
The multiple processes our body goes through while we sleep aren’t just related to our physical health, they also dictate our mental health.
While we slumber our bodies attempt to regulate the levels of stress hormones and neurotransmitters in our system. Once again, when we sleep badly these processes are interrupted. Over time these interruptions can lead to imbalances that can have a real impact on our ability to regulate our emotions.
The result of this is an increase in anxiety, stress and if we are really unlucky it can cause or the very least exacerbate pre-existing psychological disorders.
Such is the link between sleep and mental health that it’s been stated that insomniacs are twenty times more likely to suffer from a stress related condition and five times more likely to suffer from depression than individuals who sleep well.
So as you can see, sleep and good health are inextricably linked. My advice, treat your sleep with respect and in turn it will look after you. Sweet dreams!