To say my life is “busy” is an understatement.
I play a constant game of juggling my work in real estate while separately managing my own business—and that’s not even to mention my personal to-do list (which is growing longer even as I write this).
If you are a fellow busy person, or know someone who fits the bill, you know that sleep is a rare and highly sought-after commodity in our busy world.
Maybe you can’t even remember what “a good night’s sleep” means anymore.
Well, I’m here to remind you. Because as busy as I am, one thing I insist on giving myself is adequate sleep.
How much do we really need to sleep?
The reasoning behind exactly why we sleep is mysterious, but we do know that just like eating, drinking, and breathing, sleep provides a fundamental role in preserving our health. And most of us will agree that a good night’s sleep helps us feel refreshed, productive, and healthier.
If you’re like me, your day-to-day life probably feels “busy” because you’re a go-getter, driven by high goals and a strong will to succeed. As an ambitious person, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to deprive yourself of sleep. From the physical effects that sleep has on our bodies to the mental and emotional impact of poor sleep, trust me when I say that you will be more successful in your life goals if you make a habit of getting quality sleep.
That’s why it’s so important, especially for a busy person, to understand how the function of sleep impacts your body and influences your health.
1. Sleep Refreshes Your Brain
According to research from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, the amount of sleep and quality of sleep we get plays a profound role in memory and learning. While we sleep, cerebrospinal fluid pumps through our brains, clearing away waste products (or toxins) that brain cells produce during our waking hours.
This function—called the glymphatic system—is important for storing memories and also has a restorative function. Inadequate sleep, or sleep deprivation, impairs this function, making it difficult for our brains to coordinate information properly.
Our judgment can also become impaired, as we lose our ability to assess situations, make decisions, and understand behaviors.
Depriving our body and brain of quality and ample sleep will make it hard to relax and leave us feeling exhausted. This fatigue is influenced by neurons in the brain failing to work optimally, and can cause decreased focus and performance. Lack of sleep and low-quality sleep negatively impacts our mood, which also hinders learning.
2. Sleep Builds Healthy Muscles
Beyond a nutritious diet and exercise, sleep plays a significant role in maintaining healthy weight and building muscle, because it allows the body to use food and exercise for energy and growth. Our bodies release growth hormones while we sleep to strengthen our muscles and joints. During REM (Rapid Eye Movement), the deepest sleep cycle, the body is able to restore organs, bones, and circulate human growth hormones.
Growth hormones are anabolic hormones, meaning they stimulate protein synthesis and muscle growth, and boost fat loss. They also aid in repairing muscles. As we age, adequate sleep becomes even more important because it’s harder for our bodies to ignite growth hormone levels.
When we deprive our bodies of sleep, cortisol—the stress hormone—increases. In a healthy body, cortisol enables a person to deal with stress through a process of shutting down certain areas, allowing the body to use all of its energies to deal with the chaotic event at hand. For people who are getting enough sleep, their cortisol levels will gradually rise in the morning and slowly decrease in the evening until we are ready to go to sleep.
When we are overly stressed or unable to achieve adequate sleep, cortisol hinders our bodies during sleep, making it difficult for our muscle cells to receive the nutrients they need.
3. Sleep Affects Your Stomach
Sleep influences how our bodies process food, and controls our appetite. Inadequate sleep triggers ghrelin—a hormone that increases appetite—to be released, causing many people to overeat during the day. Poor sleep also lowers levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates our hunger.
Getting enough sleep is key to maintaining a healthy diet.
Sleeping positions can impact our bodies as well. Sleeping on the stomach is only recommended in a few cases; mainly for those who snore or experience sleep apnea. Otherwise, sleeping on your stomach can cause serious physical issues. It compresses the natural curve of your spine, which ultimately can lead to lower back pain. And lying on your stomach with your head facing to the side all night can place painful strain on your neck. The best sleeping position is on your back, because it promotes spine and neck health and produces fewer facial wrinkles.
4. Sleep Keeps Your Heart Pumping
Sleep is crucial for heart health. Regardless of age, weight, and lifestyle habits, people who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Without long periods of rest, the body is not able to release chemicals that lower heart rate and blood pressure. According to the Heart Association, one in five adults suffer from mild sleep apnea—a condition that causes a person to stop breathing multiple times per night—which can lead to more life-threatening problems such as stroke or heart failure.
5. Sleep Strengthens Your Immune System
There is a strong correlation between your body’s immune function and your quality of sleep. During sleep, our immune systems release proteins called cytokines. These proteins increase when we are under extreme levels of pressure and when infection is present, helping our bodies fight off sickness. When we don’t get ample sleep, we put ourselves at a much higher risk for getting sick—and as any busy person knows, catching a cold puts a huge damper in productivity.
Sleep for Success
The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is between 7-8 hours per night. For teenagers and younger children, 10 or more hours of sleep may be required. Unfortunately, most people do not receive the amount of sleep they need to support their busy lifestyles.
In the short term, lack of sleep influences our mood, appetite, and energy levels. In the long term, sleep deprivation can impact our heart, triggering larger issues like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Quality sleep is critical for our physical, mental, and emotional wellness.
I make sleep a priority, no matter how busy my life gets, because I know it sets me up for success in achieving my professional and personal goals.
Author: Candice Naysan
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski at Flickr