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We spend, on average, a third of our lives asleep. Sleep is one of our essential needs and is just as important for our bodies as breathing, eating and drinking and maintaining good and positive mental and physical health. However, in the Western World, sleeping patterns and attitudes have changed, and many adults are getting around 6 hours sleep per night on average with a further 75% saying they have problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep during the night.
The quality of our sleep has a direct impact on both physical and mental health and wellbeing and when you’re struggling to meet the demands of a packed schedule, work stresses and personal issues, then getting to sleep at night can seem like a never-ending struggle. Even minimal sleep loss can take a huge toll on your energy levels, mental sharpness, stress management and mood and over the long term, this can cause a lot of damage to our health. So, why is sleep so important for our health?
Sleep Helps to Manage Your Appetite
Poor sleep habits can lead to your body’s energy needs increasing. This is because, during the night, the need for calories is reduced as you are moving less. But, when you are sleep deprived, your brain will release chemicals which signal hunger.
The stomach produces a hormone called ghrelin, which tells the brain you are hungry and, when we haven’t slept enough, this hormone is released in larger amounts. As your stomach fills with this hormone, your body releases another hormone leptin to help counteract the feeling of hunger. However, when you are sleep deprived, leptin is released in smaller amounts. This then leads to a combination of increased hunger and decreased satiety which then leads to overeating and unwanted weight gain.
Hormone release isn’t the only way that loss of sleep changes our appetites. Without proper sleep, foods which are high in fat and sugar are more appealing because of changes within the reward centre of our brain. Sleep loss has an effect on this area of the brain and, as a result, causes increased temptation to snack.
By getting enough sleep, you are able to fight your body’s natural reaction to sleep deprivation and you will likely notice that your desire to snack and eat larger portions is lessened.
Sleep Keeps Your Immune System Functioning
When you sleep, your immune system releases the compounds cytokines. Some cytokines work by forming a protective barrier for your immune system, which helps it to fight inflammation and infection. By not getting enough sleep, your body may not produce enough cytokines to protect you from getting ill and other important components of the immune system, such as white blood cells and antibodies, can reduce over a period of time where you are getting less sleep. This is why, whenever we are unwell, we are told to rest and sleep as much as possible so that our bodies natural defences kick in.
Sleep helps the body repair, recover and regenerate and the immune system is no exception. Research has shown that better sleep quality can help to fight off infection and those people who regularly get less than 6 hours of sleep may notice that they are more susceptible to coughs, colds and infections.
Sleep Helps With Depression
We all feel a little down from time to time and sadness is a huge part of being human. For most people, feeling down is a temporary emotion, often connected to specific causes and events, but for others, a sense of sadness can be a lot more persistent and this is known as depression. Depression is a serious health condition which can have an effect on all aspects of a person’s life, but one of the things which are most commonly affected is sleep.
The relationship between sleep and mental illness is fairly complicated and some people with depression find that they just cannot sleep at all, whereas other people find that they can’t stop sleeping. For those people who can’t sleep, they may find that their mood is a lot lower on the days where they couldn’t sleep. When you don’t sleep, it throws your whole brain chemistry out of sync and it makes it a lot harder to think clearly and manage your emotions, which in turn has a huge impact on mood swings.
If you suffer from depression, then you should work on trying to get yourself settled into a proper sleeping pattern. What works for one person, might not work for you so you just need to try different things to get you in the “sleep” mindset.
Sleep is a vital and often neglected component of our health. Research has shown that by getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night is hugely beneficial to our health. Getting less than the recommended amount can increase your risk for health conditions such as heart disease and obesity, as well as impact your mental health.
Taking steps to ensure you have a proper sleeping schedule is important, so eat a healthy, balanced diet, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly and look at taking vitamins and supplements such as probiotic supplements and multivitamins to boost your overall health.
Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor(s).
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