The True Importance of Sleep
It’s said that one shouldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul. In today’s society, however, millions are in the habit of daily doing just that—by shortchanging their sleep habits in order to devote more waking hours to work, screentime, and other activities they deem more important than getting a great night of sleep.
Unfortunately, when human beings continually rob their own banks of restorative sleep, they will eventually pay the price, which frequently includes severe physical and mental health risks.
The first step to a better relationship with bedtime is to understand the true importance of sleep. Why is sleep even necessary in the first place?
Why Do We Sleep Anyway?
Just like a car with an engine that has been running too hot for too long, the human body also needs to be powered down from time to time so that when it’s time to operate again, things are back to normal.
The body is an incredibly complex system made up of smaller systems within smaller systems. Countless operations—from breathing and digestion to waste removal, muscle building, and beyond—are happening in your body (with or without your active attention) on a constant basis.
All of this activity requires massive amounts of energy and movement (both seen and unseen, both large and microscopic). As with any active machine with many moving parts, the human body breaks down with repeated use, requiring routine inspection and maintenance.
Sleep serves as a daily opportunity for this kind of essential upkeep, allowing our body’s natural mechanisms an uninterrupted chance to make repairs and perform other work that can’t be accomplished as efficiently while we are awake.
Being carefree about our sleep habits is similar in many ways to buying a car, constantly driving it at high speeds, and never taking it in for oil changes, tire rotations, car washes, or other important maintenance. We may be happy to “save time and money” temporarily, but the bill will come due eventually.
And a broken-down car is often simpler and less costly to repair than a truly unhealthy body.
How Does Sleep Help?
The importance of sleep can’t simply be summed up in a few sentences. Just as the body is made of many complex systems, the benefits of sleep are diverse and detailed in their interactions with those systems. We can explore five benefits of sleep here.
1. Sleep Keeps the Mind Sharp
Everyone can relate to feeling “brain fog” after a restless (or short) night of sleep. The fact is, sleep helps to recharge the brain. It does this by using the time you spend asleep to perform what is known as memory consolidation.
Think of each experience you have throughout a long day as a sticky note that you throw into the drawer of your mind. All of those diverse moments, thoughts, questions, and memories will be difficult to make sense of and access reliably later on unless they are well-organized. This is where memory consolidation comes in.
Like an expansive, well-organized library, our lived experiences and thoughts are carefully filed away while we sleep. This is why many people report feeling much more confident facing circumstances or making big decisions after a good night’s sleep than they felt the evening before.
The importance of sleep to mental function can hardly be overstated. Good sleep is repeatedly linked to improved cognition, productivity, academic achievement, and problem-solving skills in study after study.
2. Poor Sleep Dulls the Mind
On the other hand, sleep deprivation or irregularity in sleep habits can contribute to poor memory, lack of concentration, poor mental performance, slowed reaction time, and mood instability.
Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression can likewise be intensified by a lack of restorative sleep. Sleep deficiency is also linked to poor driving, decreased social function, and a reduction in awareness of and empathy for the emotions of those around us.
Not only that—poor sleep also deadens our ability to regulate and appropriately handle our own emotions. This can lead to poor social interaction and even the damaging of important relationships. The loneliness and isolation that often accompany poor sleep habits are real and deeply harmful to many.
At the center of a healthy body is a healthy mind, and when it comes to a healthy mind, few factors loom larger than the importance of sleep.
3. Sleep Is Good for Your Heart
Along with the brain, the heart lies at the core of human health and vitality, and positive sleep habits have been repeatedly shown to help the heart in its crucial functions.
During a night of restorative sleep, the body progresses through multiple “sleep stages,” most of which involve a deliberate slowing of heart rate and breathing as muscles relax. In this rested state, the body can effectively perform many critical maintenance and healing routines.
The risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart-related fatality may increase with repeated low-quality sleep, especially when these poor sleep habits span long periods of time.
4. Sleep Aids the Immune System
Well-rested bodies are better prepared to combat illnesses such as the common cold. In fact, those adults who sleep a full night (at least seven hours) have been shown to be several times less likely to develop colds in the first place.
Interestingly, the immune systems of those who sleep well also respond more robustly to vaccinations rendering them less likely to contract these illnesses.
Lack of sleep, on the other hand, can slow the body’s natural healing and immune processes, lengthening recovery time for illnesses and injuries and increasing the chance of contracting additional illnesses.
5. Sleep Improves Fitness
Any serious athlete can attest to the power of sleep, which is essential to recovery after a workout. During this time, the body can repair muscle tissue that has been worn down by exercise, rebuilding it stronger than before.
On the other hand, sleep deprivation—especially when it becomes a years-long habit—greatly increases the odds of weight gain and even obesity. Countless additional health risks come riding in on the coattails of these trends.
Sleep For Your Life
How important is sleep? Ultimately, for some, it becomes a matter of life and death.
From falling asleep behind the wheel to risky decision making and deteriorating health, sleep deprivation can incur truly devastating—and even fatal—costs.
When viewed with this kind of seriousness, there’s no question that sleep quality is one of the most important health issues society and individuals face. Fortunately, many of the solutions are readily available to anyone ready to change their life for the better.
Rather than sleeping as a last resort when one can’t keep one’s eyes open a minute longer—or after hours of phone scrolling—smart sleepers prioritize their sleep time. Consider scheduling it like you would any other important meeting or commitment—and then make it happen!
As illustrated in the points above, the benefits of sleep are intense, and the dangers of sleep deprivation are real. Undoubtedly, you have experienced both sides of this coin at various points in your life. Commit now to revolutionizing your physical and mental health by improving your regular sleep habits.
One thing is certain: You’ll be glad you did. Restorative sleep is essential and we can help.