Sleep is highly underrated. Before the invention of electric lights (1879), humans slept an average of 10 hours each night. And lo and behold, scientists have found this amount of shuteye is optimal for human performance. The prevailing wisdom today is that we need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours, but at least 1/3 of us sleep fewer than 6 hours each night. We are chalking up sleep debt at an alarming rate. Why and what’s the cost to our bodies?
Sleep simply isn’t valued by our society. We respect busyness, productivity, and many of us are addicted to stress. It’s no surprise that we admire the 1-3% who can consistently perform on little sleep (think Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and Donald Trump).
It’s somehow been overlooked, but sleep is just as important to our well-being as a healthy diet, regular exercise and a positive outlook. The good news is that relative to the other three, sleep is often the easiest factor to improve. Since sleep, food, mood and exercise are tied together by our bodies’ biochemistry (the stress hormones as well as the feel-good chemicals), improving your sleep is going to pay off big time in your health and well-being.
Below are 8 key benefits of a good and long night’s sleep. Each of them is directly related to levels of the hormone cortisol in our bodies. Stress ramps up cortisol, while sleep (and exercise) bring it back under control. Too little sleep, too much cortisol, lots of problems! Regular and adequate sleep will help you to:
1) Protect you from Chronic Disease – According to Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “Treating sleep as a priority, rather than a luxury, may be an important step in preventing a number of chronic medical conditions.” These include diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke.
2) Be Mentally Sharp– Sleep allows us to make decisions quickly and easily, make fewer mistakes, and boosts our short-term memory.
3) Improve Efficiency – More time in bed may feel like wasted productivity, but a good night’s sleep helps us complete tasks faster.
3) Strengthen the Body – Sleep helps us cope with pain and strengthens our immune system.
4) Make Better Food Choices – Lack of sleep causes us to crave fatty and sugary comfort foods. A well-rested mind means willpower is fully available, and healthy food choices come much more easily.
5) Exercise Regularly – How often do you skip your workout after a bad night’s sleep? Motivation and willpower are highest when we’ve slept well.
6) Lower Levels of Frustration and Anxiety – Just like a cranky toddler in need of a nap, when we feel tired we are more easily frustrated and less able to relax.
7) Prevent Premature Aging – Too little sleep slows the skin’s recovery from sun damage and other environmental toxins.
Now you know the benefits; however, sleep doesn’t come easy to all of us. In my upcoming Smarts and Stamina online workshop, Safeguarding your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise, we’ll delve further into the value of sleep. We’ll also explore a number of scientifically proven ways to help you improve the quality and quantity of your slumber. Sign up by December 20th to get an early bird discount!
TED talk, Arianna Huffington, How to Succeed? Get More Sleep. Jan 3, 2011.
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Why Sleep Matters – Sleep and Disease Risk.
Maas, James B., Wherry, Megan L., Axelrod, David J., Hogan, Barbara R., Blumin, Jennifer A. (1998) Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program that Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. William Morrow.
Shaar, M.J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.
Science Daily, Sleep Deprivation Linked to Aging Skin, Study Suggests. July 23, 2013.
WebMD, The Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep. The Healing Power of Sleep. by Gina Shaw.
WebMD, Sleep Disorders Health Center, The Toll of Sleep Loss in America. by Jeanie Lerche Davis
Dr. Andrew Weil’s Daily Health Tips, How Lack of Sleep Can Ruin Your Diet. October 22, 2013.