We all know that a healthy diet and regular exercise are the two pillars of good health. We do all know that right? Good. Just checking.
What’s less widely known is that quality sleep is the foundation on which these two pillars stand. If you aren’t sleeping well then no amount of jogging around the park and wheatgrass smoothies will keep you fit and healthy.
If you’re regularly getting anything less than seven hours sleep a night then, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you my friend are sleep deprived.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to anything from raised levels of anxiety, stress and depression, to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and even cancer. That’s just for starters!
Read on below and we will take a deeper dive into how adequate sleep can help protect you from a whole range of health problems.
Sleep and immunity
When you lie in bed asleep, all tucked up and looking angelic, it can be easy to think that your body is at rest too. The truth could not be more different. While you dream of Chris Hemsworth asking you to help him put on suncream, your body is in fact hard at work repairing, replenishing and rejuvenating itself.
Countless processes take place while we slumber, one of the most important of these is the production of T Lymphocytes, also known as T-cells. These white blood cells play a central role in keeping you healthy. They patrol the body keeping an eye out for any invading antigens and foreign bodies.
If we consistently sleep badly the production and internal management of key parts of our immune system, like T-cells, becomes impaired. As a consequence our defences are weakened. In the short term this will likely mean that find ourselves succumbing quicker and harder to colds and flus. Bummer!
In the long term however an impaired immune system leaves the body open to increased risk of whole host of far more serious conditions, least of all cancer! Double bummer!
Sleep and the cardiovascular system
If keeping your body strong in the face of cold, flu, and a little thing called cancer, wasn’t a big enough motivation to get adequate sleep how about this – sleep deprivation has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and heart attacks.
Why exactly sleep and heart health are related isn’t completely understood but one theory relates to simple exertion. When you’re asleep and horizontal your heart doesn’t have to work quite so hard and your blood pressure drops. If we sleep less, your poor pumper doesn’t get this sweet restbite.
As a consequence two individuals who look very similar on paper – same age, height, weight, etc – may have hearts that have done very different amounts of work all due to how well, or badly, they sleep.
If I was you, I’d try very hard to be the healthy one in this imaginary pairing.
For help on how to be the healthy one in that imaginary pairing, nip on over to the Sleep Advisor for up-to-date advice on improving your sleep.
Sleep and mental health
It’s not just our body that adequate sleep helps to keep fit and healthy, it’s also our mind.
Just think for a moment of the last time you slept really badly. Do you remember how irritable you were, the mood swings you went through? Well, now imagine that being a permanent feeling. In effect if you’re sleep deprived that’s exactly what you’re doing to yourself.
Once again the exact reasons for the connection between poor sleep and poor mental health aren’t completely known. One thing we do know for certain is that the so-called ‘stress hormone’ cortisol plays a big role. When we slumber our cortisol levels are regulated. If this process is constantly interrupted by broken or shortened sleep then our cortisol levels remain elevated, we suffer from more anxiety, stress and depression.
Such is the link between sleep and mental health that insomniacs are a whopping twenty times (yep twenty) more likely to develop panic related anxiety and five times more probable to become depressed. Jeez. So, probably time to head to bed and sleep like your happiness depends on it!
What’s more it’s been found that while we slumber the brain goes through a process of detoxification, certain chemical bioproducts of a long hard day spent thinking are flushed away. Chief amongst these is a little toxin known as amyloid-beta, which is fortunate for it’s believed this is the guy who has a huge role to play in Alzheimer’s.
Well, there you have it – just three of the almost endless ways adequate sleep protects your physical and mental health. If you take anything away from reading this let it be that bedtimes are not just for kids. Whatever you do today make sure you get enough sleep!