We all know that feeling: struggling to get through the day, feeling cranky, mildly depressed and lacking the energy to do anything.
Too many of us just don’t prioritise sleep highly enough. Instead of channelling our inner Sleeping Beauty and getting the 7-9 hours of sleep that doctors recommend for adults, we stay up watching TV, working late from home, going out with friends, or playing with our phones. In fact, more than one-third of Americans suffer from sleep problems.
Or maybe your family, furniture, and fears are working against you to ensure you don’t get a decent night’s shut-eye. Your children have decided they’re nocturnal animals. Your partner’s incessant snoring is reminiscent of the neighbourhood leaf blower. Your bed sags, and your pillow has more lumps than an English sugar bowl. Your overactive night-time imagination can’t stop worrying about tomorrow and switch off.
Why Is Sleep So Important?
While you sleep, your brain is filtering the information gained throughout the day. Connections that are used the most are reinforced, while those that were used less are discarded. This is the time in which all the learning and practice that you did while at work or study is processed into memory or simply forgotten.
Your brain is also in the process of removing unwanted materials, such as the toxins that build up in Alzheimer’s disease.
Your body takes sleep as a chance to slow down and recuperate after a day’s use, using fewer resources than when you are awake. Your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature all decrease relative to when you are awake.
Deep sleep also regulates the release of growth hormones, building muscle after a workout, healing injuries, and controlling your body’s changes through development periods.
All told, this means that a lack of sleep can impair your ability to retain important information, prevent damaging neurological build-ups, regulate important organ function, and allow your body to grow and repair damage. This is why you can feel foggy and dazed in addition to being physically weary and slow while you are lacking in sleep.
What Happens If I Get More Sleep?
We don’t have to miss out on much sleep to suffer the consequences. Experts say even partial sleep deprivation can have detrimental mental and physical effects, even if you do not consciously notice them. Remember, there’s a good reason why sleep deprivation (rather than a forced good night’s rest) is a widespread torture method!
So, what happens if you start sleeping more and better?
You will see a boost in physical performance. Not only does this mean more energy throughout your day, but also improvements in your daily workout and even your sex life. Better physical performance during the day will then improve your quality of sleep at night, settling you into a more reliable and healthy sleep cycle.
Your memory, focus, concentration, and decisiveness will all improve. As a good night’s sleep provides your brain the opportunity to consolidate memories and discard unneeded information, you will be able to access important memories and think on your feet much easier.
Your mood, stress levels, and overall mental health will start to improve. While it might seem like you are sleeping poorly because you are stressed or depressed, sometimes the causality flows the other way. Getting your required sleep every night will leave you less vulnerable to anxiety and depression, less irritable and moody, and more inclined to be active during your days.
You will see improvements in your eating habits. More sleep will give your body the tools it needs for impulse control, meaning you will feel less inclined to have a sugary snack when you first wake up, more able to choose a healthier diet. Your appetite will be more able to self-regulate, making it easier to avoid overeating or binge eating.
How to Improve Your Energy Levels With Sleep
Experts recommend different optimal sleep durations for certain age groups. For instance adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers often need 8-10 hours.
Make a habit of going to bed and waking at the same hours each day to keep your circadian rhythm going smoothly. While the weekend sleep-in can seem like a life saver, it can actually push your body clock back out of whack for the week. Once you have got a stable cycle going, it will be much easier to maintain.
Limit technology before bed. Bright screens can delay the rise in melatonin (the hormone that tells us it is time to sleep), tricking your brain into thinking it needs to be alert and awake rather than sleepy. Unless you’re using gadgets to improve your sleep, you should limit the use of all technology including your computer, tablet, and phone 1.5 hours before you should be sleeping to maintain your body’s ability to regulate its sleeping cycles.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and stimulant foods close to bedtime. While avoiding coffee may seem obvious, chocolate and sodas can keep you buzzing, spicy foods can give you uncomfortable heartburn, and alcohol can see you wake up in the middle of the night.
Jeff Mann is a writer, entrepreneur and sleep enthusiast. His latest website takes a look at the latest innovations in the sleep technology world. Follow the latest updates on Twitter.