Doctors and medical professionals stress the importance of quality sleep when it comes to our overall health. But exactly why is sleep such a critical element in our health, our mood and our overall well-being? To better understand just how critical quality sleep is to living longer, healthier lives, consider these 5 facts about sleep and well-being.
Like all major functions in the body, sleep is controlled by chemicals and hormones released by your brain. That sudden drowsiness that lulls you off to sleep? That's a chemical synthesis of melatonin from tryptophan, which both help you to doze off. Trying to override these chemicals with caffeine can throw off your overall brain chemical levels as your brain struggles to re-absorb these chemicals. Sleep deprivation can even cause disruption between your amygdala and your medial prefrontal cortex, causing the amygdala (which controls your emotions) to be 60% more active than normal. This can lead to more emotional responses to negative stimuli, irritability and a much greater risk for depression.
Sleep improves concentration, productivity and memory.
Because sleep helps regulate the chemicals in your brain, it can also help boost concentration and productivity. Even one night of less-than-ideal sleep can disrupt the hippocampus, which is responsible for storing memories. An under-active hippocampus can lead to forgetfulness, confusion, disorientation and the inability to keep on-task at work or at home. Even worse, consistent sleep deprivation can lead to lasting effects on your brain and productivity—studies have shown that sleep deprivation causes portions of synapses to be literally "eaten" by astrocytes. Yikes.
Sleep helps to regulate metabolism and healthy weight.
Sleep doesn't just impact your brain. It also impacts your gut, and sleep deprivation or poor sleep can throw off normal hormone balance that helps regulate your metabolism. Studies show that regular, quality sleep is one of the greatest indicators of obesity, and that regular lack of quality sleep can lead to chronic weight gain and an under-active glucose metabolism, making even valiant efforts to get more exercise less than effective.
Even if you don't suffer from sleep deprivation in the classic sense, poor quality sleep that doesn't consistently provide Delta Wave and REM sleep can lead to a higher risk of heart disease and strokes. A review of 15 studies found that people who sleep for fewer hours every night, or suffer from frequently interrupted sleep, are at far greater risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and sudden onset of strokes, as compared to those who get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep per night.
Poor sleep quality can lower the effectiveness of your immune system.
Sleep is one of the ways your immune system regenerates and maintains its effectiveness against illnesses and infections. If you don't get regular quality sleep, your body will struggle to maintain a highly-effective immune system, which can lead to chronic sickness and a higher frequency of contagious illnesses like the cold and flu.