Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep
by Jayesh Patel on Dec 12, 2022
Did you know, good sleep can heal your body?
Yes, you read that right. A good sleep works like magic. The way it promotes good health and helps sustain it is truly unmatched. No wonder we spend one-third of our lives sleeping.
What is good sleep? How many hours should we sleep? Good sleep is the one where your body feels refreshed, energized and rested, once you wake up. The number of hours needed for good sleep varies with age. While infants need around 16 to 18 hours of sleep, adults can do it with 7 – 8 hours.
What happens when you sleep? The moment we lie down with our eyes closed, our body starts the Non-REM & REM cycles of sleep. REM is rapid eye movement. Our sleep typically begins with Non REM cycle which in itself is divided into 3 stages. It is further followed by the REM cycle. It is in the third stage of the Non-REM cycle where the entire wear and tear of the body takes place. Our body heals, repairs, and strengthens the immune system.
What brings about sleep? Although many chemical reactions and factors bring about sleep, the chemical “Melatonin” is the most important. It is the melatonin that makes us feel sleepy. Melatonin synthesis is directly related to exposure to light. In the presence of light, melatonin synthesis is reduced and in the dark or absence of light, certain signals are sent to the brain which activates and accelerates the synthesis of melatonin.
Benefits of Good Sleep –
- Good sleep energizes our bodies making our brain more active to receive information and learn new things.
- It improves focus and concentration which in turn increases productivity. It enhances physical strength.
- The function of sleep is to conserve energy, and repair body tissue & cells. It relaxes muscles that strengthen your body and help you perform better. Promotes Detoxification.
- As per a study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders And Stroke, the space between brain cells increases while you sleep, and thereby creating room for toxins to be flushed out. The process of toxins flushing out is known as the "glymphatic system" that controls the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
- Helps In Weight Management- Sleep directly impacts the hormones Ghrelin and Leptin. Ghrelin makes us feel hungry, while Leptin gives the signal for satiety. Inadequate sleep promotes the release of ghrelin which in turn increases our food intake, thereby leading to weight gain. On the other hand, good sleep regulates the levels of these hormones and prevents overeating.
- Lowers The Risk Of Heart Disease- Good sleep prevents the release of cortisol which is a stress hormone that increases your heart rate and is responsible for rapid breathing. Sound sleep thus gives your heart, mind, and body a much-needed rest to function effectively once you wake up.
- Strengthens Immune System- Strong immunity is equally dependent on sleep as it is on your intake and other activities. While you sleep, your body makes cytokines. These are proteins that help fight infection and inflammation. Additionally, it also produces immune cells and antibodies that destroy harmful pathogens.
- Stimulates Mood and Improves Mental Health- Sound sleep helps your mind and body to recognize, understand and react to situations in the right way and make rational decisions. It keeps you away from emotional imbalances and frequent mood swings. This helps you maintain healthy social relationships, and improves your mood and mental health.
Factors responsible for Inadequate Sleep –
- Choice and Screen Time- Lately, not sleeping enough has become a personal choice for many. With everything being just a click away, we are investing more time looking at the screen binge-watching our favourite movie or drama, finishing our game, shopping, or just merely scrolling through the phone.
- Overthinking- Out of the many reasons, overthinking affects your sleep cycle severely. After a busy day at work, most people utilize their bedtime to think about their work, relationships, prospects, and more. Thinking too much doesn't bring much change to your everyday life, but it surely elevates your stress levels and hampers your sleep.
- Consumption Of Caffeine- Caffeine can cause a burst of energy in the brain that stimulates the central nervous system, thereby keeping you active and not allowing you to fall asleep.
- Reduced Sex Drive- Poor sex life or a reduced sex drive due to any reason can lead you to overthink. Since it is seldom discussed, it leads to a build-up of stress which doesn’t allow your mind and body to rest.
- Fatigue- Fatigue doesn’t necessarily have to be only physical. Emotional and mental fatigue put an equal toll on well-being, ultimately leading to sleeplessness.
- Unhealthy Habits- Smoking, consuming alcohol, and drug abuse are major reasons for stress, anxiety, and poor health. And when your body is in the worst condition and filled with toxins, you get a step away from decent sleep which further leads to more health disorders.
- Heavy meals before bedtime can also cause discomfort and disturb sleep.
- Medical Conditions- Sometimes things are not in your control, and disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and narcolepsy give you sleepless nights.
What can be done to attain better sleep?
- Make a choice- Having a good sleep most of the time comes by choice. We should avoid unnecessary screen time, and stop and control our emotions for anything that keeps us away from having that delicious slumber.
- Be Disciplined- As discussed above, discipline plays an important role in the formation of the Body’s clock.
- Be consistent- Whether it is having food, exercising, or sleeping, do it at the same and right time every day. This makes the body go in auto mode and sets the circadian rhythm which supports good sleep.
- Exercise/Meditation- Dedicating a few minutes of your everyday life to exercise and meditation can be a game-changer for you. Meditation and exercise help with proper blood circulation, and adequate fatigue which helps you have a sound sleep.
- Eat Right- Foods rich in Magnesium, Tryptophan, and Zinc help in getting good sleep. Milk, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, lentils, turmeric, dairy products, and green leafy vegetables promote better sleep. Even fruits like oranges, cherries, and avocados support good sleep. Include these in your daily diet.
- Reduce Screen Time- Limit the use of your phones, laptops, and computers. Switch off from them at least 1 hour before your bedtime. These gadgets emit blue light which is harmful to the eyes as well as disturbing your sleep cycle.
- Limit daytime naps- Don’t oversleep in the afternoon. One tends to sleep late if slept too much in the afternoon.
- Change the setting/surroundings- Dim the lights, and draw curtains so that the exposure to the light decreases gradually and helps boost melatonin production.
- Relax, meditate, listen to soft music and make sure the bed is clean and tidy.
- Natural herbs- Herbs like lavender, chamomile, valerian, ashwagandha, and passion flower act as a natural sleep aid. Drinking tea made out of these herbs or having a warm water bath infused with these natural oils help in getting good sleep.
- Supplements- Those who have problems getting good sleep despite adequate measures taken can rely on natural supplements. Melatonin supplement especially helps in getting good sleep. The supplement works even better if enriched with the goodness of the above natural herbs. A melatonin supplement can help regulate the body’s Circadian rhythm and aid sleep.
Remember, a good night's sleep is your good health buddy and such friendships are sure for keeps, aren’t they?