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Why is sleep SO important?

So why IS sleep so important? Or Are you someone who can ‘get by’ on 5 hours a night. Now this isn’t strictly ‘physio territory’ but when it concerns health in general, I find everything interesting and relevant!

Disclaimer – I am by no means a sleep scientist or doctor, if you are experiencing problems you should seek medical advice.

I recently listened to a book (‘Audible’ - really useful if you spend lots of hours in a car) by Matt Walker, neuroscientist and sleep scientist. He talks about the many benefits of sleep and the detrimental effects of lack of sleep. Walker argues that no human being can ‘get by’ on just 5 hours of sleep due to being chronically sleep deprived, he states that the body becomes accustomed to working in a sub optimal way and that this then goes unnoticed.

So what’s the correct amount – normal healthy adults are recommended 7-9 hours per night. What this actually means is that you give your self enough time to get 7-9 hours sleep so if you need to get up at 6am and you want 7 hours, you need to be in bed ready to sleep by 11pm, right? How many of us can hand on heart say we give ourselves this window?

Did you know that by sleeping for 4 hours per night for just 10 nights you are as chronically sleep deprived as if you stayed awake and pulled one all-nighter, just one. In a study where Walker restricted participants sleep to 4 hours per night he found the effects were so alarming that the mistakes being made in simple daily tasks were profound. Effects on the body can even be noticeably seen with just 1 hours reduced sleep, slowing reaction times, reducing energy levels and compromising cardiovascular fitness.

How about the quality of your sleep? Do you wake up feeling refreshed? Or do you wake up feeling groggy like you could sleep another 8 hours all over again.

Habits and routines that we have throughout the day affect our sleep even if we don’t think about it, it’s a hot topic at the moment about the effects of ‘blue light’ but there is something to it. The science behind this is our bodies naturally begin the process of ‘going to sleep’ when certain triggers are made, light affects one of them, it’s called circadian rhythm. Light suppresses the release of melatonin and melatonin produces a cascade of events which ends in sleep. If we forgo that process our bodies aren’t ready for sleep, thus taking longer to get to sleep (reducing overall time) and reducing quality. Ever wondered how people woke and slept before man made light? Circadian rhythm.

How does sleep help you heal? Whilst you sleep your bodies heart rate and blood pressure lower progressively giving your cardiovascular system a much needed rest, during REM sleep (the deepest part of your sleep) your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure all vary, this is thought to promote cardiovascular health. A lack of sleep also puts your body under more stress throughout the day which can raise stress related hormones in your body, these have been shown to slow healing in tissues – so sleeping well and for longer can help heal injuries!

The bodies natural body armour? Sleep among many other things acts almost as the bodies own defence mechanism. A link has been found between lack of sleep and many chronic diseases. One study found that when healthy individuals slept for 4 hours per night, 6 nights in a row, their blood sugar and insulin levels matched those seen in diabetic individuals, another study found that women who slept <7 hours each night over time were more likely to develop diabetes then those that got 7-8 hours.

In summary – WOW, a good-nights sleep (or more realistically many good nights sleep) really is the answer to everything!

Thanks for reading and keep an eye out for our future blogs!

If you are interested I’ve attached some additional resources:

Matthew Walker – ‘Why We Sleep’ (Book)

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