The Importance of Sleep
Sleep is so important. That being said, many of us don’t pay enough attention to this basic yet essential activity.
Take a second and count the number of hours you got last night.
Whether you’ve under slept, over slept or got the magic number, your sleep impacts not only your brain and cognitive functions but your entire body.
What Is Sleep?
We all know what sleep is, because, well, we all do it regularly. Sleep is defined as reduced sensory and muscle activity in the body - or part of our ‘altered consciousness’. At Dreamers we believe that sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity, and the key to a longer, fuller life.
Sleep has evolved over time. As a species, humans have gained greater intelligence and learned to function in an industrial, modern society and with this evolution our patterns and ways to sleep have intrinsically changed.
Lifestyle plays a big role on how and for how long we sleep, but technology is playing an even bigger role. Not only does it affect how much we sleep but the quality of it. In fact, the light emitted from your phone, tablet, tv or computer as you’re reading this right now will have an impact on how you sleep tonight.
What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Sleep loss is a huge cause for concern when looking at our overall health and wellness and yet it’s an often overlooked source of problems for the human body.
Basically, lack of sleep puts your body at risk.
Did you know that people lacking in sleep have a 40% shortfall in their brain’s ability to learn new facts? 40% is huge, that’s almost half your brain’s new fact learning ability in one go!
Inside your brain lives an amazing structure called your Hippocampus, which acts as the ‘informational inbox’. Its job is to receive and store new memory files. Sleep deprivation can (and will) actually shut this memory box down, like a virus in your computer, directly affecting your body’s cognitive functions.
Your body also contains essential agents called Natural Killer Cells whose job it is to identify and destroy dangerous elements in your body. Numerous scientific studies into Natural Killer Cells are exploring their function after sleep loss. One particular study found that If you don’t get enough sleep these cells aren’t able to do their job. Operating on only 4 hours of sleep can result in a 40% drop in your body’s immune defense. And, with sleep deprivation on the rise, scientists like Eric J. Olsen (M.D.) are now beginning to find links between this deprivation and terminal diseases such as cancer.
Our favorite Sleep Scientist, Matt Walker sums it up best with:
“There is simply no aspect of your wellness that can retreat at the sign of sleep deprivation and get away unscathed.”
In turn, having healthy amounts of sleep will work wonders on your body, mind and your overall well being.
How Does Light Affect Sleep?
Light, whether from the sun, a lamp or your phone screen, has dramatic effects on your sleep; influencing your circadian rhythm, melatonin production and your sleep cycle.
The circadian rhythm is a 24 hour internal clock that helps mediate your body’s processes. It is controlled by a small part of the brain that is heavily influenced by light exposure. As light enters the eyes, your brain sends a signal throughout your entire body to operate in accordance with the time of day.
When exposed to only natural light, your circadian rhythm will synchronize with the rising and falling of the sun – keeping you alert during the day, and help you to sleep at night. However a growing reliance on technology has led to an over abundance of light sources that misalign our circadian rhythm, throwing our sleep cycles out of whack.
How can you get a better night’s sleep?
Try to stick to a routine. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning to unobstructed natural light, regardless of whether it’s the week or the weekend. Having a regular sleep cycle is paramount to improving the quantity and quality of your sleep.
Ever wonder why you struggle to sleep on hot nights? Your body actually needs to drop its core temperature to initiate sleep. According to scientific studies, 18 degrees celsius is actually the optimum temperature for most people to get those precious zzz’s.
We know we’ve said it already but it’s worth saying again, sleep is important. It’s not an optional part of your lifestyle but rather a non-negotiable biological necessity. Sleep is your shelter from the storm, it’s a key element of your support system, so let’s give it the attention it deserves.
As our society evolves, becoming a 24 hour non-stop environment, we find ourselves in the middle of a great public epidemic of sleep loss. Shed the stigma of laziness. You have the right to a full night’s sleep.
Image credit: Matias Alonso Revelli