“Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer, enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you Interested?” (Walker, 2017)
This article is inspired by the New York Times’ bestseller “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” by Dr. Matthew Walker. In this article, we will explore the benefits of getting the recommended amount of sleep, the side-effects of not meeting this requirement, and some fixes for common reasons we don’t get enough of it.
There is a reason sleep was included in our biological makeup and preserved as a necessary function throughout human existence. Heck, even dinosaurs slept! If dinosaurs risked their lives to sleep, it must be pretty important, right?
Here is a list of benefits that eight hours of nightly sleep can give you:
- Improved Memory
- Longer Lifespan
- More Creativity
- Lower Cancer Risk
- More Energy
- Improved Focus
- Healthier Immune System
- Less Depression
- More Vibrant Eyes and Skin
Why Eight Hours?
It is a common misconception that we can make-up for missed sleep later in the week, but this is not the case. The purpose for getting eight hours of sleep per night is because the process of sleep occurs in cycles, and the most revitalizing part of this cycle happens in REM Sleep. The final stage of REM occurs in the last hour of the eight hour sleep cycle. This is why six hours of sleep is not good enough. To harness the full power of a good night’s rest, you must get all eight hours!
Here is a model of the sleep cycle:
Modern research has discovered that maintaining a proper sleep schedule is a vital component in preventive healthcare. Failing to meet the recommended requirement for sleep can have detrimental impacts on your health.
Here is a (very scary) list of some of the side-effects of not getting enough sleep:
- Memory Issues
- Increased Anxiety and Depression
- Trouble with Thinking and Concentration
- Mood changes
- Weakened Immunity
- Low Sex Drive
- High Blood Pressure
- Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer
- Weight Gain
There are many ways in which missing sleep can harm you, even getting 6-7 hours of sleep a night substantially increases your risk of crashing your car. Although the effects of missing the recommended eight hours of sleep are vast, sadly, “two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep” (Walker, 2017). Imagine what the world would be like if we all slept properly? Maybe far less car accidents and suicides? Lower rates of cardiac disease and less obesity? Happier families? Who knows, the possibilities are limitless.
Common Reasons we miss out on Sleep, and How to Fix them.
I am very busy, I have kids and work full time. How could I possibly get eight hours of sleep EVERY night?
As we have seen, the benefits of getting eight hours of sleep per night are great. And the side-effects, aren’t so great. So as with anything else in life, we must work to schedule in our sleep time and make it a priority. Try eliminating distractions from your bedroom, or putting your kids to sleep a little earlier than usual. Of course this is easier said than done, but no matter how busy your schedule is, it is more than possible to maintain a healthy and satisfying sleep schedule.
If you need help staying motivated to maintain a sleep schedule, start paying more attention to your dreams! Dreams offer great insights into our psyches and may even help you navigate your life a little better. Keep a dream journal (click the text to see the one I use, it’s a lot of fun) to stay interested in sleep, you may even start looking forward to sleeping for this reason alone!
I work the night shift and can barely sleep during the daytime, is there anything I can do to still get the benefits of sleep?
Although working the nightshift is not the healthiest choice, it is still possible to derive benefits if you get the recommended eight hours of sleep. But to ensure that you hit all your necessary sleep cycles, it will require that you invest in blackout curtains, caffeine and melatonin supplements (the hormone your body releases when it gets dark outside). If you can create a room that is pitch black, you may be able to fool your body into thinking that it’s nighttime. This “fooling” will allow your body to release the necessary chemicals for a good “night’s” sleep. Furthermore, taking a melatonin supplement will fool your system even farther into thinking it’s nighttime.
It is also important not to flip-flop from sleeping during the days and nights. The idea is to trick your circadian rhythm (the “body’s clock” that tells us when to eat, sleep and wake) into following a normal routine. If you can keep at least a four day consistency, you may still be able to derive all the benefits from sleep.
Use caffeine to your advantage! Caffeine blocks the receptors for a central nervous system chemical called adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical in the central nervous system that makes you feel sleepy. By drinking caffeine at night, you will be able to block the effects of adenosine and stay awake throughout the night. Then when you get home to your pitch black room during the daytime, this blocked adenosine will make its way back to the receptors and help you fall asleep. Be sure to take your melatonin when you get home as well. This will ensure that your system hits all of the necessary cycles.
I’ve never been able to sleep, I’m a bit of an insomniac and have always had issues falling and staying asleep. What Can I do?
This is a very common problem, especially in the insanely busy world we live in today. There are so many distractions and things to worry about. But there are ways to make this better and still get the benefits of sleep.
First, you must make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Take out all distractions! This means your cellphone, TV’s, books, laptops, etc. Your bedroom is now a sacred temple of sleep. Invest in some good pillows and make sure your bed is to your liking.
You must also limit your caffeine intake, alcohol and pharmaceutical drug usage. Never take sleeping pills! “If you compare natural, deep-sleep brainwave activity to that induced by modern-day sleeping pills, such as zolpidem (brand name Ambien)… the type of sleep these drugs produce is lacking in the largest, deepest brainwaves.” (Walker, 2017). Caffeine and alcohol also have negative effects that may aid in preventing your from getting a healthy night’s sleep.
A very common reason for insomnia or lack of sleep in general, is a busy mind. If you can work to calm your mind, you will find that your sleep will be more nourishing. A great and free way to calm your mind is to learn meditation. You can start here, this article will get you on the right path to mental contentment, peace and better sleep.
If you would like to unleash the power of sleep, just make sure you get eight hours of sleep a night! It’s really that easy. You will notice the effects very rapidly and your body will thank you for it. If you would like to learn more about sleep, you can read the book that inspired this article. The author, Dr. Matthew Walker, is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley. This book offers tremendous insight and further detail into the importance of sleep. I enjoyed reading it because he keeps it entertaining and limits the use of big “sciency” words. I recommend that you give it a look, it’s also a New York Times bestseller!
If you have any question or would like to offer your own thoughts on this topic, just leave a comment! We would love to hear from you.
10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/10-results-sleep-loss#1