Why We Need Good Sleep
We all sleep differently. Some like to stay up until the late hours of the night. While others naturally wake up as the early bird. Whichever you are this will always be true: sleep makes you feel better. Its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles.
Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can benefit your heart, weight, mind, and more. Here are some health benefits researchers have discovered about a good night’s sleep.
How Sleep Levels Your Hormones
The quality of your sleep is just as important, if not more, than the length of your sleep. There are multiple stages to sleep. Stage 1 highlights the start of the sleep cycle where one is still consciously aware of any environmental change. The beginning of the actual sleep cycle occurs in stage 2, which lasts between 10 and 20 minutes. The deepest phases of sleep occur for about 30-40 minutes at stages 3 and 4 followed by a period of active sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Stages 3 and 4 are integral to athlete development as this is where Growth Hormone is released and cortisol is regulated.
Growth hormone, or sometimes known as HGH, is an important part of the body’s endocrine system. It is essential for muscle repair, muscle building, bone growth and promoting the oxidization of fats. This is critical for maintaining a certain standard of performance throughout your athletic career.
Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone is regulated in deep sleep. Cortisol levels directly impact the body’s ability to digest glucose. Since endurance is based on our body’s ability to metabolize and synthesize glucose for later use, quality of sleep becomes even more important for athletes specializing in endurance-testing sports like swimming and track.
How Sleep Make You A Better Athlete
Whether you are running head to head with your competition on the track or making a glove-save in the rink, the smallest fraction of time will make the biggest difference. Lack of sleep has been known to reduce this alertness and decrease reaction times. In fact, moderate sleep deprivation has been proved to have the same effect on reaction times as alcohol intoxication of 0.05% BAC. Imagine the accuracy of shooting a basket after a couple of beers.
The physical benefits of proper sleep act as a subset of both the psychological and physiological advantages. A study conducted by Milewski et al. in 2014 found that adolescents who had less than 8 hours of sleep compared to their counterparts who slept 8 hours or more were 1.7 times more likely to experience an injury. This doesn’t seem far off when we look back to the lessened reaction times and cognitive abilities of sleep-deprived athletes.
What Is Insomnia & What Are Its Health Risks
Basically, if you’re regularly clocking in at under seven hours a night, you’re doing yourself a disservice as grave as that of regularly smoking or drinking to excess. Everyone needs a different number of sleep hours every night, but we all need a specific minimum amount. Some of us need ten hours or more, and some of us feel bouncy and perky all day at only seven hours.
Sleep & Heart Diseases
There are two meta-analyses [1, 2] that talk about sleep and risk of death. Interestingly, both studies found the same outcome. “Short” sleepers (less than 7 hours a night) had an increased risk of death of between 10-12%. What’s crazy is that they also found an increased risk of death for “long” sleepers (ranging from a little over 10 hours a night).
It’s important to note that a lot of the studies they looked at were self-reported and usually prospective (they get information about people and then see trends as time goes on). This makes it difficult because someone could say they are getting 6 hours of sleep but really getting 4 hours of quality sleep. Or, they say they are getting 4 hours of sleep but they are really getting 6.
Cardiovascular disease (AKA heart disease) is widespread. Sleep appears to make matters worse. In a meta-analysis of 122,501 people found that those who have sleep insomnia are at a 45% increased risk of heart disease. The same limitations apply to this study. But, there appears to be a pretty good link between poor sleep and chronic disease, just adding to the list on why sleep is important.
Sleep & Weight Gain
Sleep is important to prevent over-eating. When we’re tired, we want energy. How do we get energy? Our bodies turn to food for calories. There is a reason why you’re craving calorie-dense foods after a terrible sleep and nothing looks less appealing than an apple. We want to “make up” the energy we don’t have by fueling it through calories.
Research has pointed to the effects of sleep deprivation and eating habits. One study found that when people were sleep deprived, they had a decreased sensitivity to two hormones:
- Ghrelin = the hunger hormone
- Leptin = the fullness hormone
If you used to get a lot of sleep and be a lot skinnier, chances are the two things are related. Your body is not able to clean out old cells and old cellular waste when you don’t get enough sleep. This prevents proper nutrition uptake, which essentially starves your cells.
Both the clogging of waste and the nutrition starvation lead to massive ballooning of your body fat. Get more sleep and relax, knowing that your body is about to do a 180-degree turn on the fat accumulation.
Sleep & Diabetes (Causation vs. Correlation)
Another widespread chronic disease is type 2 diabetes. Now, there are SO many reasons for this and to say sleep alone causes it is absolutely ludicrous. But, research does appear to show a relationship between poor sleep and the risk of developing diabetes.
The authors thought there could be many reasons for the increased risk. For example, the change in eating habits when we are sleep deprived can lead to weight gain and/or unfavorable food choices. As well, if we are super tired, we are less likely to exercise, which is a well-known activity that can help reduce your risk. Finally, low-grade inflammation from poor sleep could be another culprit. So, keep in mind that sleep is important for preventing more than one chronic disease!
Sleep & Premature Aging
Have you ever noticed when you’re sleeping poorly your skin looks duller? And then, think about all the times someone has come up to and said “wow, you look well rested!”. Guess what, sleep is important for your skin too! Once again, sleep helps us recover. And that includes the skin cells. It’s called beauty sleep after all.
Interestingly, people that sleep less and are sleep deprived have actually been rated as less attractive. Which is really unfortunate. But, it comes down to the fact that a lot of sleep deprived people show signs of “bags” under their eyes and duller and paler skin due to decreased blood flow to the skin. In one study, they related these signs of poor skin from sleep deprivation to social consequences. They suggested that when we look more tired, we are less presentable and therefore less approachable. And to be honest, it does make sense.
What’s more, inflammation from sleep deprivation can negatively impact the quality of our skin. It’s actually theorized that lack of sleep may interfere with collagen synthesis. However, that’s yet to be proven.
Finally, a study of 75 women recently showed the effects of lack of sleep on skin aging. Those who were considered good sleepers had significantly fewer signs of intrinsic aging and their skin responded better to different types of stressors (such as UV rays). Those with lack of sleep had greater signs of wrinkling, uneven skin tone, skin hydration, and less subcutaneous fat (which is considered youthful).
Sleep & Poor Cognitive Function
Your brain is filled with cells which are continually eating and defecating. During sleep, your brain can regenerate these fluid pathways and clean out cellular waste and restore cells to their natural, original state.
If you have trouble thinking, studying, working, or problem-solving, there are incredibly high chances that you are not allowing yourself to have enough sleep. Remember that your brain needs to clean out this cellular waste and replace it with renewed cell activity. This can only happen after a good, long night’s sleep.
Sleep is important for various aspects of brain function. This includes cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance. All of these are negatively affected by sleep deprivation.
A study on medical interns  provides a good example. Interns on a traditional schedule with extended work hours of more than 24 hours made 36% more serious medical errors than interns on a schedule that allowed more sleep. Another study found that short sleep can negatively impact some aspects of brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication.
On the other hand, good sleep has been shown to improve problem-solving skills and enhance memory performance of both children and adults.
Sleep & Mental Health
Depression has been linked to lack of sleep. Lack of sleep has been known to exacerbate depression and lack of sleep can also be a symptom of depression. It is estimated that more than 90% of people living with depression have sleep issues. People who have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) or insomnia have significantly higher depression rate than other people.
Sleep Trackers That Help You Beat Insomnia
The Fitbit Versa is the brand’s latest smartwatch. The Versa is a really great option if sleep tracking is just as important to you as fitness tracking. Thanks to its sensors, particularly its gyroscope and optical heart rate sensor, this tracker is very sensitive.
After sleep, open up the Fitbit app and you won’t just see the duration of your sleep. You’ll also see the different sleep stages you went through throughout the night, from light and REM to deep. Fitbit also attempts to make sense of this data and give you personalized insights about your sleep, but sometimes they’re a bit generic.
The Nokia Sleep is a pad you can slip under your mattress to keep a track of your sleep quality without having to wear anything on your wrist. It means you can just jump into bed and you don’t have to worry about putting on an extra tracker, and if you do own a fitness tracker or smartwatch, rest assured that you’ll be possible to charge it while you sleep.
The Nokia Sleep will monitor lots of stats too including your sleep phases, your heart rate, the amount of time you’ve been snoring and the duration of your sleep too. If you just want to crawl into bed and have all of your sleep quality recorded and ready for you to digest in an easy to use app, the Nokia Sleep is the perfect device for you.
If you don’t fancy the idea of putting a gadget in your bed welcome to the Oura Ring. Smart rings were tipped to be a huge tech trend a few years ago. However, loads never made it past the crowdfunding or initial prototype phase. Luckily, the Oura ring did. It’s an activity, wellness and sleep tracking rolled into one tiny, slim package that’s about the size of a standard wedding band.
Although it can track your activity, the Oura is focused on wellness and particularly sleep. It provides you with a simple sleep score each day, but you can delve deeper into your stats to find out all kinds of information about the quality of your rest. From your resting heart rate to how much you moved, all presented on a series of bar charts and graphs. It’s crack for sleep and data nerds.
Beddit is an unobtrusive sleep monitor that sits on top of your mattress, beneath the sheets. You don’t have to wear anything, all you need to do is focus on sleeping.
In the morning, the powerful app delivers you a detailed breakdown of the quality and quantity of sleep, heart rate data and breaths per minute. If the well-placed kicks from your partner don’t do it, Beddit tells you if you’ve been snoring, which is a serious contributor to poor sleep.
The Beddit app also offers feedback on the temperature and humidity in bed, helping you to optimize the sleep environment. All of the information is displayed in easy-to-read graphs, making it ideal for analyzing trends over time.