Even people who prioritize working out and eating clean can be harming their health and hurting their results by skimping on sleep.
Sleeping more (increased sleep quantity) and sleeping better (increased sleep quality) can pay dividends in big ways, such as improving memory, weight maintenance, and mood.
1) Improved Memory
Surprisingly, researchers don’t actually know exactly what happens in our brains during sleep. Recent discoveries have revealed sleep plays a role in regulating hormones, clearing waste from between brain cells and yes, helping us organize the information we learned during the day into useful memories.
The link between sleep and memory has been extensively studied, and scientists believe that adequate sleep is key to learning because memories are consolidated during sleep. Though you are not physically practicing how to ride a bike or learning a new language while you sleep, you are helping with memory consolidation. When you are asleep, you are “practicing” these skills and will perform better after you sleep.
Additionally, we’re less capable of learning in the first place when we’re sleep-deprived. In many ways, sleep deprivation is a quick way to zap your memory!
2) Maintain a Healthy Weight
Poor sleep is one of the single biggest predictors of ill health, and weight gain in particular seems to be strongly linked to sleep loss.
Our bodies create hunger-regulating hormones during sleep, and lack of sleep often produces an excess of the hormone ghrelin. When our hunger hormones are disrupted, we’re more likely to turn to quick sources of energy in an effort to “make up” for missed sleep.
What’s more, even one night of 4 or less hours of sleep can cause insulin resistance. So, missed sleep created a desire to eat more carbohydrate-dense foods and a decreased ability to manage that carbohydrate load. If sleep deprivation is a regular part of your life, you can see how this cycle can quickly get out of hand and lead to weight gain.
Focusing on adequate sleep—7-9 hours consistently—is important for general health and weight loss goals alike.
3) Improve Your Overall Wellbeing and Mood
Sleep-deprived new parents will tell you just how important adequate rest is to overall well-being and mood. If you’re constantly waking up on the wrong side of the bed, you might be spending too little time there in the first place.
Research indicates that sleep deprivation downregulates dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with positive moods and a key player in conditions like anxiety and depression. Even if you don’t suffer from a diagnosed mood disorder, keeping your dopamine levels in check by getting adequate sleep is a worthwhile goal.
Stress jeopardizes our overall health, creates irritability and leaves us emotionally fragile. Ever felt that you’re stretched thin by lack of sleep and reacted poorly to the most common situation? Avoid that situation and increase your resilience by putting sleep at the top of your To-Do list.
Often, prioritizing sleep comes down to listening to our bodies.
Busy schedules, work commitments and social functions make sleep seem pretty un-sexy.
But if you’re struggling with memory, weight management or mood, we suggest you consider its benefits. Shooting for another hour of sleep each night is an easy and cheap way to improve your life.
Also published on Medium.