The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night. However, The Natural Sleep Company conducted a national survey here in Ireland which found that over a third of our population get less than 6 hours sleep. But just why is getting a good night sleep so important? As winter closes in, there’s never been a better time to give you the top three reasons why it’s better to get out of the right side of bed each morning.
Sleep helps keep your immune system strong
There is a relationship (albeit a complex one) between our immune systems and our sleep-wake cycles. In fact, parts of our immune system actually help to control our sleep. As a result, the amount and quality of sleep we get, directly impacts how well our immune system functions. Multiple clinical tests have shown that lack of sleep and catching a cold are heavily linked. “Worn out”, “snowed under” and “a bit under the weather” are all common ways to refer to having a cold but they all have a common theme – the fact the sufferer wasn’t getting enough sleep.
Certain disease-fighting chemicals are released or created while we’re sleeping. Sleep deprivation decreases the availability of these substances leaving us more susceptible to each new virus and bacteria we encounter. That’s why even a small amount of interrupted or missed sleep can trigger inflammation that can cause tissue damage. For large amounts of sleep loss, the risk rises incrementally and can lead to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even obesity.
Unfortunately, the sicker we get the less likely we are to sleep well during the night. The catch 22 situation of sleep making us sick and sickness stopping us from sleeping, is why the best thing to do when sick is simply down tools and take to bed for a few days to recover.
But sleep doesn’t just keep your immune system from breaking down, it actively repairs it in the event that it does break down. During the third and fourth stages of sleep – the ‘deepest’ stage – our bodies are actively working to restore themselves. Muscles relax, blood supply increases, damaged tissue is repaired and new tissue is grown. While all this is going on, vital hormones are released and our overall energy levels are renewed.
Sleep makes you fitter and happier
Winter usually means shorter days, colder weather and a lot less chance of us getting outside, getting some exercise and reaching those gains. While most Irish people already know that a lack of sunshine in Ireland during the winter months can have a negative impact on our moods due to the lower levels of vitamin D, they may not be aware that if you don’t sleep, you don’t build muscle.
While most fitness magazines and health forums are already widely aware of this phenomenon and the importance of sleep in tackling it, most people don’t realise that sleeping poorly simply ruins your fitness regime. Sleep loss can go hand in hand with weight gain. Some of this is simply down to being tired and turning your back on your regular exercise and healthy cooking. However, some of it is also down to the hormone leptin, which plays a key role in making you feel full. When you don’t get enough sleep, your leptin levels drop making sure that if you’re tired you think you’re hungrier. That’s what makes you start to crave high-fat and high-calorie foods and we all know what that does.
We’ve seen above in point one that our bodies use the time we’re in deep sleep to heal damage done to our cells and tissues when we’re awake. However, during ‘light sleep’ at the start of the night, our bodies release growth hormone. That’s why a lack of sleep is so heavily linked to muscle atrophy.
It’s not just fitness levels and body weight that is affected by sleep. Our overall happiness can be adversely affected by the amount of sleep we get. In fact, one study showed that a lack of sleep can adversely affect happiness to a greater level than financial or work-related worries.
Sleep improves learning and memory
As well as the worsening weather, winter also brings with it a return to education for children, teenagers and college-goers. It’s a time of year when sleep is more important than ever, as it improves our ability to learn and remember new information.
Research has shown that when you’re well rested, the part of your brain that controls speed and accuracy is more active than in people who slept poorly. Scientists who carry out this type of research believe that while we sleep, memories and skills are shifted around to more efficient and permanent regions of the brain, so we’re more proficient the following day.
A good sleep after learning something new has also been shown to help retention, synthesize new ideas and pull knowledge together from different experiences and parts of the brain. It’s one of the reasons why there is a growing call to start school later on in the morning for children. In one trial in the United States, starting schools just one hour later increased standardized test scores, improved attendance and led to fewer symptoms of depression among students.
A better night’s sleep is just a call away
One of the keys to a good night sleep is finding the perfect mattresses. With over 30 years providing expert sleeping solutions and high quality mattresses for customers across the country, The Natural Sleep Company can help you find whatever you need to know before you buy the right natural mattresses for you and your family. You’ll find a host of great solutions, watchouts and advice on our main blog and our team of dedicated experts are standing by to help you in any way they can.