If you’ve ever lain awake at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling, with the day’s events whirling through your mind – well, you’re hardly alone. More than 60 percent of people suffer from insomnia or sleep disorders at some point in their lives. Sure, sleepless nights leave you tired and irritated the next day, but they can also affect you in ways you never realized. Read on, and find out why it’s important to catch your ZZZs.
The poet Thomas Dekker once said, “Sleep is that golden chain that ties our health and our bodies together.” And, science says he couldn’t be more correct. Sleep restores and refreshes. During those uninterrupted 8 to 9 hours every night, your body’s busy healing and regenerating tissue, and building bone and muscle.
A good night’s slumber prepares you to face another day of adventures and challenges. Unfortunately, when you’re repeatedly short-changed in the sleep department, you don’t get that chance to recharge – and, you can suffer long-term health consequences as a result.
Here are some of the ways sleep impacts your physical health:
Immunity. While you’re sleeping, your immune system releases proteins that help protect you from infectious disease. So, without proper rest, your body’s ability to respond to (and fight) colds and viruses decreases dramatically – increasing the chances you’ll get sick.
High blood pressure. Sleep helps your body regulate stress hormones, and it keeps your nervous system operating smoothly. Getting only 6 hours of sleep or less at a time lowers your body’s ability to keep those hormones in check – and raises your risk of developing high blood pressure.
Diabetes. Insufficient sleep causes your body to process food more slowly than it should. This results in a higher blood sugar level – and makes it more likely you could develop Type 2 diabetes, which is when the body becomes insulin resistant or doesn’t produce enough insulin to process the food you eat.
Weight gain. Adequate sleep helps balance the hormones that make you feel full (lepin) or hungry (ghrelin). When you short yourself a good night’s sleep, your level of ghrelin increases, so you’re hungrier the next day.
Also, your fat cells become less sensitive to insulin, which makes your metabolism “groggy.” So, between a stimulated appetite and a major craving for sweets (quick energy to relieve your fatigue), you have a rock-solid recipe for weight gain.
Healthy brain function. Your ability to concentrate and make decisions improves with regular, sound sleep. And, because you can also pay better attention after a good snooze, your capacity to learn new skills skyrockets. So, study a foreign language, take a culinary course or try out an unfamiliar sport when you’re well rested.
While you sleep, your brain forms new pathways that sharpen your memory and help you solve problems more easily. How many times have you gone to bed and stewed relentlessly over an “impossible” dilemma or predicament? Then, after a great night’s sleep, the situation didn’t seem so difficult after all.
Emotional well-being. Insomnia can make you feel moody, sad or overly sensitive. You’re more likely to withdraw socially (like cancel a lunch date or skip family game night). And with our younger population, the effects are even more notable.
A study in the Journal of School Health reported that more than 90 percent of teenagers get fewer than the recommended 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night. Children and teens who don’t get enough sleep lose their tempers faster, are impulsive and have a harder time getting along with their peers.
Parents can help by ensuring kids’ sleep requirements are met. Youngsters aged 8 to 15 have a tough enough time working through their developmental years. Think of sleep as an essential tool to help them achieve their goals each and every day.
Performance and safety
When you’ve had a restless night, you tend to be less productive and act in ways you wouldn’t if you were fully rested. Ever get a case of “brain fog” and serve your grade-schooler a cup of hot coffee in the morning? Or, maybe you’ve misplaced your glasses, only to find them hours later in the office fridge?
A good night’s sleep may mean a good day’s work.
Sacrificing even a couple hours of sleep, a few nights a week, impairs your ability to function safely. Maybe you suffer from “micro sleep” throughout the day, where you fall asleep for a few seconds without even realizing it. Are you missing things that were said in business meetings or classroom lectures? Forgetting parts of your evening drive home? Get your sleep and stay safe.
Routine, quality sleep affects your overall well-being and should be considered essential – not optional. An off night here and there is to be expected. But, if you’re frequently losing out on precious shut-eye, you could be wreaking havoc on your mind and body.
Talk to your Providence primary care provider about strategies to help you get the sleep you need to stay healthy. Don’t have a primary care provider? Use our online tools to find a clinic or provider close to you.