The Importance of Sleep

By Perry Landers
Man in bed with eye mask knows the importance of sleep - Vitality

“Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?”

The quote above is taken from Dr. Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep.” Though it may seem a bit hyperbolic, Walker sets out to make the point that if the aforementioned treatment existed—a cure-all drug that enabled us to achieve optimum health in every area of life—most of us would pay a lot of money for access to it.

Without being too tongue-in-cheek, that “miracle” drug does exist: a good night’s sleep.

According to Walker, there exists “more than 17,000 well-scrutinized scientific reports” proving that sleep provides the incredible benefits mentioned above. Like eating, drinking and breathing, it’s the foundation of good health and well-being. In fact, it’s so critical to your livelihood, you’ll die of sleep deprivation before you die of food deprivation. The human body can withstand two weeks without food, but only 10 days without sleep.

America’s Sleep Woes

Despite the importance of sleep, too many of us “shun the nightly invitation to receive our full dose of this all-natural remedy—with terrible consequences.” Be it a lack of understanding of sleep’s importance, busy schedules or poor nighttime habits, we as Americans don’t take sleep as seriously as we should. The Centers for Disease Control has gone as far as to call insufficient sleep a public health epidemic:

Sleep is so foundational to overall health that we’ve decided to dedicate a series of blogs to take a deep dive into the topic. During this series, we’ll cover the basics: why sleep is important, how much of it you need, how it works, the habits currently killing your sleep, and what you can do to get more, better quality sleep. Today, we set the stage.

Why Sleep Matters

Sleep encompasses one-third of every person’s life and has a tremendous impact on how we live, function and perform during the other two-thirds. Sleep provides our brains and our bodies the time they need to recover from the stresses of the day. It’s an essential function that regulates your mood, helps you concentrate, enables you to think clearly, helps you process memories, strengthens your body’s ability to fight off disease and more.

Experts agree that adults ages 18 to 65 should get 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep each night.*  If you get any less than that on a consistent basis, it can start to take a toll on your mind, body and health. Time wouldn’t allow for us to discuss every single way poor sleep can negatively impact you, but here are a few examples to consider:

  • Poor sleepers (those who get less than seven hours of sleep per night) are at greater risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Poor sleep negatively affects your sugar metabolism and has been shown to increase the risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
  • Poor sleep has been linked to increased inflammation which overtime can be linked to cancer.
  • Sleep deprivation can lead to attention lapses, reduced cognition and delayed reactions. In fact, being awake for 18 hours straight (if you get less than six hours of sleep on a given night) makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (.08 is considered drunk). If you’ve been awake for a full 24 hours and drive—say, after a night where you just couldn’t fall asleep—it’s like you have a blood alcohol level of .10. Every year, up to 100,000 car accidents are caused by exhausted drivers.
  • Even a small decrease in sleep impairs your immune function—something you don’t want to do especially as we head into cold and flu season with the risk of COVID-19 still present. One study indicated that individuals who slept less than seven hours were nearly three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept eight hours or more.
  • Poor sleep has been linked to a number of mental health issues, such as increased depression, anxiety, risk for suicide and risk-taking behaviors.
  • Short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. Lack of sleep has been shown to increase your appetite by disrupting the daily fluctuations in appetite hormones. Additionally, lack of sleep reduces your energy and motivation to workout which may also be a contributing factor to obesity.
  • Adequate sleep has been shown to enhance memory performance and improve problem solving skills. On the contrary, poor sleep disrupts these cognitive functions. In one study, interns on a conventional schedule with extended work hours of more than 24 hours made 36% more serious medical errors than interns on a schedule that allowed more sleep.
  • An analysis of data from multiple studies suggests that sleeping five or fewer hours per night may increase mortality risk by as much as 15%.

As you can see, sleep is not something to take lightly. It’s the foundation to a healthy, long and productive life, and the argument can be readily made that it’s just as important to your health as are a healthy diet and exercise. Be on the lookout for our upcoming blogs in this series as we take a deep dive into how sleep works and what you can do to get a better night’s rest.

*Not only isn’t important to get enough sleep (7 to 9 hours), it’s important for that sleep to be good quality. Later in the series we’ll discuss what constitutes “good quality” sleep.

Perry is the Digital Content Strategist for Vitality Group. He loves black coffee, college football, being active and afternoons spent at Wrigley Field. When he’s not working for VG, you can find him hanging out with friends or curating a new Spotify playlist.

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