Sleep is a fundamental part of living a healthy life says both science and common knowledge–but we’ve compiled some specifics for your consideration.

Whether you are a newborn baby, a stressed out college student, or a retired parent, everyone needs to sleep. Sadly, we don’t all love to sleep (see toddlers and adolescent night owls). Insomniacs wish they could, and busy bees don’t even think about it. In the end, we short ourselves on sleep for the sake of productivity, anxiety, or even just a good time.

If you’re wondering whether sacrificing sleep really has a detrimental effect on your lifespan, the short answer is yes.

However, it is more complicated than that. To make it simple for you, we’ve broken down 7 ways sleep is crucial to your health.

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The Bad News First: You Can’t “Catch Up” on Sleep

Sleep debt is a very real problem in today’s world. Whether you lose sleep working on a big project or as a result of partying, missing those extra two or three hours adds up. In fact, just missing an hour here or there can deprive someone of two full weeks of sleep by the end of one year. 

Don’t let us scare you, you can get that missed sleep back, but don’t try to do it in one prolonged sleep festival. Add it back on like it was taken away.

Not all of us can eke out a full eight hours of sleep a night, but some of us don’t need that much. Conversely, some of us need more than eight hours a night.

There are baseline recommendations for every age, but if you have the room to experiment, you should. Go to sleep when you feel tired and wake up whenever your body naturally wakes you up. For those of us who have more rigorous schedules, we have to be a bit more creative. Pro-tip: the ideal nap is between 10 and 20 minutes.

But feeling less sleepy isn’t the only benefit to regular sleeping habits. These 7 reasons sleep is fundamental to your health all add up to a happier, healthier you.

A Brief Disclaimer

Please note that we here at Edgy Labs can only provide researched advice and cannot replace the expert counsel of a degreed medical professional. If you have sleep deprivation issues, please consult your physician for diagnosis and treatment.

1. Regular Sleep Maintains Physical Reaction Times

Regular sleep keeps you as close to 10 out of 10 as possible. Due to the sleep deficit, you may see a reduction in reaction times and reflexes. When your sleep debt really begins to add up, you may expose yourself to serious side effects like falling asleep at the wheel as you drive.

As a result of many increased incidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration even has a term for this: “Drowsy Driving”. A strong cup of coffee is just a band-aid, unfortunately. The best solution to up your reaction times is to get some rest.

2. Regular Sleeping Habits Can Increase the Quality of Sleep You Get

I definitely struggle with getting quality sleep. Even if I sleep for ten or more hours, only three of those might be REM quality sleep. That means that, despite investing time in resting, I might still have sleep debt accumulated from years past.

If you can sync up with your body’s natural sleep schedule (or at least maintain steady habits), you will get better sleep. Scientists say that the more sleepy we get over time the less tired we feel, so don’t be fooled. In the end, better sleep means better cognitive functions.

3. Boosted Memory & Learning Skills

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While REM sleep is very important, scientists say that something called SWS sleep matters, too. Slow-wave Sleep affects something called declarative memory–this affects our knowledge base of factual information. SWS sleep can help us process and amass information.

REM sleep matters for something called procedural memory or how we do things.

This all means that the quality of sleep we get determines how well we remember things AND how well we absorb and understand information.

4. It’s Better for Your Skin, Too

The term “beauty sleep” didn’t gain popularity for no reason. The amount of sleep we get (or don’t get) shows up on our faces. Not only can sleep deficits lead to increases in stress hormones, they can reduce skin elasticity over time. That means more breakouts and quicker aging.

The other more obvious effect of poor sleep on your face: dark circles and puffiness under the eyes. While skincare products can ease the effects of poor sleep habits, improved sleep habits are a more long-term solution.

5. You Can Find the “Right Amount” for You to Increase Productivity

As mentioned earlier, some people might only need six hours of restful sleep a night while others need ten. Finding the right amount for your body means experimenting and being patient. Once you do, you could potentially increase productivity thanks to numbers 1, 2, 3, and 7 on this list.

A word of caution though: beware of oversleeping. It can lead to similar effects as sleeping too little such as cognitive impairment.

Also, don’t just lie awake in bed. Your brain is an amazing tool that creates associations automatically–much like it makes an association between the bed and lying awake. Instead, leave bed and read an old-fashioned book in a dim room until you feel sleepy again.

6. Weight Loss & Metabolic Regulation

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A weekly exercise regimen can help increase the quality of sleep you get. However, that isn’t a benefit of sleep. What sleep can do for your metabolism is.

Sleep deprivation can increase stress hormones and alter the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates. It can also change how our hormones affect our appetites.

Due to poor sleep’s effects on mood and cardiovascular health, these effects on your physical health could compound over time.

7. Immune System Function and Health Problem Prevention

Speaking of physical health, a good night’s rest also improves your body’s ability to fight off infection. Without a steady stream of rest for your cells to rebuild, the body has to work harder on an average day.

As reported by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute website, the long-term effects of sleep deprivation include heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and more. It can also increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.

So, if you are, like me, not freaking out about when those all-nighters from college are going to catch up with you, don’t go around getting smart tattoos just yet.

Along with these 7 reasons sleep is fundamental to your health, we have some tips to combat insomnia, as well.

What to Do if you Can’t Sleep

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Regardless of the cause of insomnia, the effects are the same. Restlessness, foggy memory, decreased reaction times, etc. So how can you combat this? Limiting electronic use and reducing sunlight-esque light sources are easy steps. But try these steps, too:

  • Meditation and breathing exercises
  • Only using your bed for sleep (thus your brain associates your bed with sleep ONLY)
  • Listening to sleep-inducing music
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid alcohol after dinner
  • Avoid caffeine after 2 PM
  • Don’t go to bed hungry
  • Check out sensory deprivation tools like a sleep mask if you live in a noisy area

These steps could not only help you get to sleep in the first place, but they could increase the quality of your sleep. 

What are some tricks you use to maintain healthy sleep habits?

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