National bed month is upon us, and to celebrate it, it is worth taking a look at what makes sleep so important.
Sleep is primarily important for our cognitive function. While you are asleep, the brain is performing what is called 'memory consolidation', where it sorts throughout information, grouping and storing it away as it works. The memory consolidation is very much like the role of a librarian. A library usually houses thousands of books with countless pieces of information, but without organisational structure, this information is redundant. The same applies for the brain, without effectively managing information through sleep, our brains can become confused and cluttered.
Research has shown that sleep can effect your metabolism and weight. So people who sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to be overweight than those who sleep a solid eight hours. The reasoning behind this is that sleep deprivation changes the way our bodies are able to process and store carbohydrates. It also affects the hormones that influence our appetite and sense of satiety.
Safety is also a concern for those who are sleep deprived, because a lack of sleep reduces your ability to perform well in day-to-day tasks. Driving a car, for example, is one aspect that has been studied. Research has shown that people who are sleep deprived are more at risk of being involved in a car crash, or make errors at work.
Although this may not sound as serious, sleep can have a detrimental impact on your mood. Most of us can testify here for evidence, as we all know the impact of feeling groggy and grumpy because of sleepless nights. It is also founded in scientific research, showing that people are more irritable, impatient, moody, and unable to concentrate than their well-rested peers.
Heart health is a more serious implication of a poor night's sleep. The heart is an organ that seems to be uniquely susceptible to problems caused by sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep causes high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, and has been linked to various forms of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
There are many ways to achieve a good night's sleep, but here are the principles. Stick to a schedule, and sleep only at night. This will make your mind associate the night time with sleep, leaving you mentally prepared. Exercise during the day is known to help, and taking a hot shower or bath before bed will relax you. Avoid eating just before bed, and also avoid caffeine as they both stimulate the brain. Having at least two hours from when you eat to when you sleep is usually the recommended time.
Posted by Michael Ewing