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Why Sleep Matters

There is a modern-day misconception about the importance of sleep. We’ve convinced ourselves that anything else is more productive and frequently hear the expression “you can sleep when you’re dead.”

Recently, though, sleep science has been gathering steam and proving what should have been intuitive all along–our bodies didn’t evolve to waste time. Sleep is central to your health and performance. Although we remember little from our time asleep, our brains are firing and our bodies are actively repairing.

This movement is starting to have a social impact, and people are waking up to the importance of investing in sleep. If you want to take better care of yourself, start by making your sleep a priority.

Investing in Sleep

How much are we undervaluing sleep? The widely accepted baseline for adults is 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Depending on which study you read, anywhere from half of the US population to two-thirds of all adults in developed nations are not getting enough sleep.1 If you think you can function on fewer than 6 hours, think again. Only 5% of the population has the genetic mutation to do so.

Our brains are wired to ignore signs of sleep deprivation, so many of us get used to insufficient sleep without feeling the damage we’re doing.

When you get enough quality sleep, here’s what you receive in return for the extra time invested:

Inside your body

  • enhanced immune function and disease resistance, helping you live longer
  • increased energy and strength, so you feel and act more vibrantly
  • improved weight loss and blood glucose regulation, helping you lose fat and improve your skin
  • upgraded coordination and flexibility, so you miss fewer steps and catch yourself when you do
  • boosted hormone levels, so you recover faster and improve your fertility

Inside your brain

  • increased focus and creativity, so you can perform at your highest level
  • enhanced memory and ability to learn complex skills, helping you retain what you learn
  • improved emotion regulation, so you can keep your cool under stress

Getting enough restorative sleep helps keep your autonomic nervous, hormone, and immune systems balanced. When you’re balanced, you sleep better. It’s a virtuous cycle that affects all aspects of your health and productivity.

You can start prioritizing your sleep today and optimize your physical and mental performance by trying these sleep tips.

Calculating the Cost of Sleep Deprivation

Still not convinced? Skipping out on sleep impacts your ability to think effectively, react quickly, create memories, and regulate your emotions.

Here’s what’s at stake:

Longevity

  • Your likelihood of developing diseases and chronic ailments increases–including obesity, depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Your sympathetic, fight-or-flight nervous system becomes overactive, pumping excess cortisol into your system.
  • Your body’s primary healing resource, human growth hormone, dramatically reduces production.
  • Your reproductive system is disrupted. A man’s testosterone levels decrease to the equivalent of a man who is 10+ years older, and women have disrupted conception hormone cycles.

Energy and resilience

  • Your time to physical exhaustion drops.
  • Your injury rate increases.
  • Your tissue repair slows and lactic acid builds up faster.
  • Your peak muscular strength, vertical jump height, and running speed decrease.

Weight and metabolism

  • Your probability of gaining weight, being overweight, and/or developing Type 2 diabetes increases.
  • Your weight loss shifts to shedding valuable muscle rather than fat.
  • Your likelihood of overeating increases as hunger hormone levels rise while the levels of the hormones that signal that you feel full fall.
  • Your chance of having gastrointestinal problems and nutrition absorption issues rises, as increased cortisol levels cultivate bad bacteria in your gut.

Immune function

  • Your immune system is disrupted and handicapped at reducing inflammation.

Effective thinking

  • Your brain accumulates toxins that impair behavior and judgment.
  • Your short-term memory and attention are reduced.
  • Your ability to solve problems, be creative, and use divergent thinking declines.
  • Your crucial decision-making center, the prefrontal cortex, shows reduced activity.

Reaction time

  • Your cognitive impairment is equivalent to being inebriated after 20 hours of being awake.
  • Your risk of being in a motor vehicle accident increases.

Memory formation

  • Your brain’s ability to learn and create long-term memories is compromised.

Regulation of emotion

  • Your brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, increases activity.
  • You are more likely to overreact to social situations, such as a fight with a spouse.

Get Started Today

If you want to combat these effects, sleep is your best defense. You can start by keeping a log of how well you sleep each night or use a wearable to more objectively measure the quality of your sleep and healthy patterns in your life.

References

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  • Harmon, Katherine. “Rare genetic mutation lets some people function with less sleep.” Sci Am (2009). (link)
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  •  Kloss, Jacqueline D., Michael L. Perlis, Jessica A. Zamzow, Elizabeth J. Culnan, and Clarisa R. Gracia. “Sleep, sleep disturbance, and fertility in women.” Sleep medicine reviews 22 (2015): 78-87. (link)
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  • Goel, Namni, Hengyi Rao, Jeffrey S. Durmer, and David F. Dinges. “Neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation.” In Seminars in neurology, vol. 29, no. 04, pp. 320-339. © Thieme Medical Publishers, 2009. (link)
  • Williamson, Ann M., and Anne-Marie Feyer. “Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.” Occupational and environmental medicine 57, no. 10 (2000): 649-655.(link)
  • Tefft, Brian C. “Acute sleep deprivation and culpable motor vehicle crash involvement.” Sleep 41, no. 10 (2018): zsy144. (link
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  • Yoo, Seung-Schik, Ninad Gujar, Peter Hu, Ferenc A. Jolesz, and Matthew P. Walker. “The human emotional brain without sleep—a prefrontal amygdala disconnect.” Current Biology 17, no. 20 (2007): R877-R878. (link
  • Gordon, Amie M., and Serena Chen. “The role of sleep in interpersonal conflict: do sleepless nights mean worse fights?.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 5, no. 2 (2014): 168-175. (link)
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