Many factors can influence a healthy body. A healthy diet and exercise alone, however, are not enough. Sleep plays a vital role in a functioning, healthy, system and not approaching sleep as absolutely critical could derail other attempts at a healthy lifestyle. As a parent, this is especially important. If you want to care for your children to the best of your ability, making sure you’re well-rested is going to be pivotal in helping you achieve that. Perhaps even more important is the example you set for them while they are in their formative years. Teaching them good sleep habits when they are young will no doubt benefit them as they develop.
Dr. James O’Brien, medical director of the Boston SleepCare Center in Waltham, Mass. and overseer of operations of sleep studies at ProHealth Sleep Services, says, “Sleep is not a luxury, It’s a necessity for optimal functioning.” Sleep allows your brain to catalog and manage the day’s events, increases memory efficiency, and activates a release of hormones that regulate cognitive function, energy levels, and mood stabilization. The brain needs 7-8 hours of sleep daily. Any less and the effects on many of your body’s systems and functions will start to show. Mood, creativity, concentration, and physical energy will all be affected.
How Does Sleep Work?
Sleep is a cycle made up of 4 stages. In a full night’s sleep, this cycle will occur 3-4 times at 90-120 minutes each time. Stage 1 and 2 remove you from consciousness and bring you closer to detachment from the waking world. These stages are the transitions of relaxation towards the next two stages: deep sleep and REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). It is during these stages that you will find the restorative and regenerative qualities of the sleep cycle. In deep sleep, your body experiences the lowest point of activity during the cycle. Your body will divert blood flow from your brain to your muscles. In REM sleep, your brain will become even more active than in the day. This is the stage in which dreaming occurs.
Restoration In Sleep
The final two stages of the sleep cycle activate important restorative functions in the body in different ways. Without deep sleep, you will be much more vulnerable to sickness, depression, and even weight gain. Deep sleep manages and promotes muscle growth, hormone release and new cell production. Deep sleep enhances muscle recovery through the release of human growth hormone and through protein synthesis.
In REM sleep, the fourth and final sleep cycle stage, recovery and restoration is focused more on cognitive function, memory, and learning. A lack of REM sleep can lead to slower cognitive function, memory problems, difficulty focusing, and a reduction in social processing skills. Performing complex tasks and multitasking with a lack of REM sleep becomes increasingly more difficult.
Later sleep cycles tend to have longer REM sleep periods. The longer you can sleep, the longer periods of REM sleep you can experience. Longer REM periods can greatly enhance your cognitive function. Sleep deprivation will force your body into favoring lighter sleep stages and engage less time per cycle on deep and REM sleep stages.
Health Complications Tied To Sleep Loss
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious health complications and put you at risk for a number of health conditions.
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heart Attack
- Heart Disease
- Heart Failure
- High Blood Pressure
Some estimates claim that those dealing with chronic insomnia have a 90% likelihood of experiencing an additional health condition.
Sleeplessness And Depression
Insomnia and depression are linked. They fuel each other. Sleep loss can aggravate symptoms of depression, and depression can make sleep more difficult. Fortunately, treating sleep issues can improve symptoms of depression and vice versa. Insomnia is one of the first symptoms associated with depression.
Lack of Sleep And Healthy Skin
Even your appearance can be affected by a lack of sleep. Puffy eyes or sagging skin are common to anyone experiencing a few nights without adequate sleep. However, those experiencing a chronic lack of sleep may start to see the development of fine lines, dark circles under the eyes, and even increased wrinkles. Not getting enough sleep leads to the excess production of the stress hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol can break down collagen, the protein responsible for smooth and elastic skin.
Sleep also ensures a healthy production of human growth hormone. When young, this hormone regulates growth and physical development. As we get older, it still plays an important role in keeping our bones strong, promoting muscle mass, and strengthening of the skin.
Maintaining Good Sleep Habits
Managing a healthy sleep pattern in a busy life can be difficult, but sleeplessness adds up and accumulates. Try to manage sleep, as possible, by ensuring you can achieve a minimum of 7 hours of sleep daily. Limit caffeine intake. Try to sleep in a darkened environment to ensure healthy melatonin production and allow for your brain to think it’s ready for sleep.
Naps can help. Brief 10-15 minute naps throughout the day can help boost your energy and even support a healthy night’s sleep later on, provided that you don’t sleep too long and enter deep sleep. Naps can even be a healthier substitute for that cup of coffee.
Regardless of age, a lack of sleep will have negative implications on your body. Making sure that everyone in your household (parents and kids alike) has a good sleep routine will result in positive returns in almost every aspect of your family’s life.