Most of us know that diet and exercise are key parts of staying healthy and boosting our energy levels. No one would dispute the fact that they are important to our overall well-being. These are the first two pillars of health.
However, there is a third pillar that many people over look and yet it is just as important to our body and mind as diet and exercise. This is of course sleep.
We have for centuries neglected our sleep at great cost to both our physical and mental being. Thankfully this is starting to change with a real movement towards the understanding of the body’s circadian rhythms and the science of sleep. The research undertaken in the last quarter-century has brought a greater insight into sleep and our bodies internal clock.
Why is sleep as important as diet and exercise?
- Sleep is essential to our brain function. This includes how our nerve cells communicate with each other. Ours brain don’t go to sleep when we do! They are remarkably active and recent findings suggest that sleep helps your brain to detox, by removing harmful toxins that build up while we are awake.
- Sleeping well improves learning no matter how old we are! We all know we never stop learning, so sleep is just as important to an adult as it is to a child or a teenager.
- Sleep helps to enhance your problem-solving skills, makes decisions easier and makes us more creative.
- Studies have shown that sleep deficiency alters our brain activity. We can have trouble focusing on tasks or problems, even controlling our behaviour or emotions and coping with change. Next time you are feeling a bit short tempered, ask yourself if you have had enough “quality” sleep.
- Sleep is a key factor in our physical health. Did you know that sleep is linked to the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels? Ongoing sleep deficiency has proven links to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
- Losing sleep increases the risk of obesity. It’s all linked to the hormones that make you feel hungry or full (ghrelin and leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your hungry hormones go up and your full hormones go down. So, if you ware well rested you won’t feel so hungry.
- Sleep has an impact on your body’s reaction to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar levels. If you are sleep deprived your blood sugar levels will be higher than normal which in the longer term can lead to diabetes.
- Sleep is your bodies defence against infection. Long term sleep deficiency changes the way your immune system responds, and you may find you have trouble fighting common bugs.
- People who sleep well are more productive, they complete tasks faster, have quicker reaction time and make less mistakes. If you have several nights of losing sleep, even if it is only an hour or two per night, your ability to function will suffer as though you haven’t slept at all for a couple of days.
- You might be Microsleeping! Microsleep is where you experience brief moments of sleep that happen when you are usually awake. You may not even be aware it is happening! You can’t control it and it can affect how you function. Have you ever driven somewhere and then thought that you couldn’t remember part of the trip? Then, you may have had an episode of microsleep.
Many people aren’t aware of the risks of sleep deficiency. Many don’t even realise that they are sleep deprived and think that they can still function perfectly well. It is estimated that driver drowsiness is a factor in around 12% of fatal crashes in NZ (Ministry of Transport statistics).