Sleep is this strange thing that seems to be crucial to our survival as pretty much all creatures sleep, from humans, to birds, to fish to insects and yes even plants sleep, and while we sleep we are extremely vulnerable, so why do we do it? For something that potentially takes up roughly a third of our lives its got to be doing something important, right?
Sleep for the body
To talk about why sleep is so good let’s start by looking at what happens in the absence of sleep. According to Robert Stickgold and the research coming out of Harvard Medical School in Boston when we are being deprived of sleep we experience an increase in the risk of diabetes, increased inflammation, poor vaccination response, increased distractibility, high burnout, emotional instability and a higher rate of depression. Research has shown that with getting on average 4 hours of sleep a night for a week can cause a drop in testosterone by the equivalency of aging by about 11 years, meaning if you are 40 years old and only get 4 hours of sleep a night for a week your testosterone levels will likely drop to the levels of that of a 51 year old instead of a 40 year old. This can affect muscle and strength gains as well as negatively affect our libido and concentration.
During sleep our bodies use roughly 35% less energy than if we were to stay awake for the full 24 hours. In sleep we experience many of the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system, this includes digestion, protein synthesis where our muscles repair themselves, new tissue growth, hormones are produced and released and all sorts of restorative functions occur.
A lack of sleep can influence our immune system from weakening it to evidence showing that if the week prior to getting a vaccination shot we are low on sleep it will negatively affect the vaccination response making the vaccine itself less effective.
Our sleep can even influence our appetite as studies have shown that from an evolutionary perspective sleep and appetite are connected together as it can be difficult to sleep when one is hungry. For animals in the wild if they haven’t eaten and starvation is starting to set in sleep takes a back burner as the quest for food becomes ever more of a concern we sacrifice sleep so that we can get our next meal. A lack of sleep can affect our appetite, when we are sleep deprived our brain produces hormones that influence the sensation of hunger and the effectiveness of insulin depreciates with the loss of sleep as well. Showing at the very least there is a relationship between our food and our sleep.
Here is a link to the presentation from Harvard
Sleep for the mind
In sleep our brains neurons reorganize, developing new connections and different pathways. During sleep we maintain and repair brain cells as our bodies prune connections and remove toxins. A study in 2012 showed our lymphatic vessels expand in our sleep and flush out these toxins like amyloid beta and tau proteins. Amyloid beta plaque has been associated with Alzheimer’s and there seems to be a growing body of evidence that shows a relationship between sleep or a lack there of and Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep can affect our ability to learn and form new memories, influence our creativity and our problem solving capabilities as well as hindering or enhancing our focus and concentration.
Sleep for the Heart (emotions)
Sleep helps us regulate our emotions as we can be quite the unhappy camper from a poor night’s sleep. Sleep and our mental health have a long standing and intimate connection that’s still not fully understood, as when we are suffering from sleep deprivation it can contribute to the onset and progression of mental health issues. We also know that many mental health problems can contribute to sleep disturbance leading to sleep deprivation.
As we can see sleep affects us on all levels of our health, from the way we perform physically to our degree of creativity and problem solving capabilities to how well we are able to manage our emotions. Sleep keeps us caring, fit and razor sharp, all things we need on our journey through life.
So, sleep well my friends.