You’ve probably heard the many reasons why sleep is so important to your health, but as we enter the New Year, these friendly reminders are worth repeating.
Sleep is when the body heals and repairs. Throughout your hectic day, your sympathetic nervous system acts as your accelerator allowing you to handle action and stress. While engaged, the priority is on your muscles, respiration, and heart. Digestion and healing take a back seat because they are not going to get you through life’s many obstacles. At night, your parasympathetic nervous system takes over. It acts as your brake allowing the body’s systems to slow down, relax and heal. In addition, a variety of hormones are secreted at night to help your body replace damaged cells and rebuild.1
Sleep plays a role in memory and learning. Studies show that a sleep deprived person cannot optimally focus attention and/or retain information. This is because sleep plays a major role in the consolidation of memory which is imperative for learning new information.2
Sleep helps you live longer. As sleep is shown to minimize stress, increase energy and stamina, and stave off depression, it will improve your quality of life which puts you on track to living longer. Conversely, sleep deprivation is shown to cause accidents, which puts you on track to shorten your life!
Sleep reduces inflammation. People who get at least six hours of sleep have less inflammation and lower CRP levels (a protein found in the blood which rises in response to inflammation). And as you have read in both Integrated Heart Health and Health is a Choice, inflammation is strongly linked to heart disease, arthritis, stroke, diabetes and premature aging.
Good sleep can increase creativity. Researchers at Harvard University and Boston College found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.
Sleep to lose weight. Studies also show that sleep deprived dieters lose less weight because when you are sleepy, certain hormones associated with appetite are increased.
It is also important to note that prescription drugs and alcohol can keep you from going into the essential, deeper levels of sleep. So what can you do to get a better night sleep? Stay decaffeinated and alcohol free after 3pm. Keep your bedroom calm, cool, quiet, dark, and uncluttered. Eat a small snack 15-30 minutes before bed (Why warm milk? It contains the natural sleep promoting substance tryptophan, but so do these dairy-free options: nuts and seeds, a banana, honey, and eggs). Take a warm bath before you tuck in, and no cell phones, iPods, computers or homework in the bedroom!
Jill Coleman has been a registered nurse for over 21 years. She has studied natural holistic medicine since the late 1990s. She promotes healing through whole foods and organic remedies. For more information visit her blog at www.JillColemanRN.com.
References: 1) Rest and Sleep Essential for Health by Lawrence Wilson, MD© January 2012, The Center for Development; 2) http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory; 3) http://www.health.com; 4) Mednick SC, Christakis NA, Fowler JH (2010) The Spread of Sleep Loss Influences Drug Use in Adolescent Social Networks. PLoS ONE 5(3): e9775. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009775