It’s easy to forget or ignore the importance of sleep. Especially when everything seems to be in motion all the time.
But here’s the shocking thing: we can’t get away in life without sleep. We need it. We need it not only to survive but also to perform at our very best.
It’s not surprising that the average human who lives up to 79 years will spend about over a quarter-century sleeping.
This is about 9,490 days or 227,760 hours. As if that’s not enough, you’d also spend 7 years trying to get to sleep.
Even when you know that sleep is good, it’s critical to understand why and how sleep impacts our bodies. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this article.
Let’s dive in.
1. Improves cognitive performance
Sleep is the key to being able to do both complex and simple cognitive tasks.
Some of these tasks include:
- Ability to recall words
- Better attention span
- Alertness and listening
- Faster reaction time to simple things
- Ability to recognize faces
- Improved decision making
In one study, Swedish researchers looked into the impact of one night’s sleep deprivation on cognitive function.
Their study published in the Journal of Sleep Research showed that losing even one night of sleep affects our ability to perform on cognitive tasks.
Take for example the decisions about what to eat. Sleep deprivation leads to an increase in appetite which leads to making bad food choices.
In one study, researchers allowed participants to sleep for only 4 hours.
This sleep deprivation caused them to eat an average of 559 more calories the next day compared to when they had eight hours of sleep.
2. Improves your body’s immunity
Immunity is the body’s defense against harmful viruses and illnesses.
The stronger our immunity the less vulnerable you are to get sick. The opposite is also true.
Our bodies produce and release different types of proteins to keep us immuned and healthy on its own. One of those proteins is Cytokines.
Cytokines enable us to fight infection and inflammation, which in turn boosts our immunity.
And here’s where it gets even better:
Our bodies produce and release cytokines when we sleep. So if we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies are less likely to produce less of these helpful proteins.
In one study researchers got profound results.
People who sleep less than six hours a night might be three times more likely to develop a condition that leads to diabetes and heart disease.
On top of that, your body is less likely to recover faster from sickness if you’re not getting enough sleep.
3. Helps control blood pressure
Several studies have investigated the relationship between insufficient sleep and cardiovascular health.
And here’s a common finding: not getting enough sleep can impact your blood pressure. In this case, the importance of sleep cannot be overstated.
Part of the reason is that when we sleep, our bodies regulate stress. This is important for keeping our nervous system remain healthy.
However, if we don’t get enough sleep over a protracted time, we sabotage our bodies’ stress regulation mechanism.
This in turn leads to high blood pressure.
In one study, researchers Doyle and her colleagues looked into this connection between sleep and blood pressure.
They recruited 300 men and women who had no issues with heart problems. For two days, participants put on portable blood pressure cuffs that took the blood pressure of the participants.
The researchers found that not getting enough sleep may increase blood pressure that night and the following day.
4. Helps to fight off common cold
Common cold or flu can be one of the distracting things to your productivity.
Several studies have shown that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to get ill after coming in contact with the common cold virus.
In one study, healthy participants were given a dose of the common cold virus. Before participants received the doses, the researchers measured how much the participants slept.
Over the following days, researchers found that participants who had less than five hours of sleep were 4.5 times more likely to catch a cold.
This is compared to those who had more than seven hours of sleep at night. If you’re wondering how you beat the cold or flu, the key is to sleep more.
5. May help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Research into the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease is burgeoning. And there’s a clear importance of sleep.
Early findings are providing some insights into how sleep duration and quality can impact Alzheimer’s disease.
One of these early studies has been done by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine.
The findings showed that reduced non–rapid eye movement sleep is associated with tau pathology in early Alzheimer’s disease.
Jeff lliff is a neuroscientist. For a good part of his career, Jeff has explored the functions of the brain. Jeff explains it this way:
“A series of recent clinical studies suggest that among patients who haven’t yet developed Alzheimer’s disease, worsening sleep quality and sleep duration are associated with a greater amount of amyloid-beta building up in the brain.”
Although the studies are inconclusive, this suggests something important.
If the brain is unable to clear waste like amyloid-beta, it can contribute to cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s.
It’s tempting to skip sleep, I know. There are so many distractions these days. Don’t ignore the importance of sleep.
But that means now, more than ever, we need to disconnect. We need to sleep. And the quality of sleep will pay off when we are awake.