I used to think sleep was overrated – my philosophy mandated that I squeeze as much activity as possible into every 24 hour period, lest I miss something! Rest was for the weak. The less I slept, the more productive I believed I was! I lived this way throughout my youth and my 20s and maybe even the first year or two of my 30s…but I’ve changed my tune.
So what do I believe now? I believe sleep is grossly under-valued. We take it for granted, those of us who generally get a good stretch of it every night. I suppose that the chronically or severely sleep deprived have a better handle on the true value of sleep than the rest of us, since the absence of it makes its value painfully clear. I have great empathy and respect for night shift employees, those who suffer from insomnia or sleep-related disorders, etc. And at the moment I can relate just a teensy bit as the mother of a newborn. My 2-week-old daughter is actually a good sleeper so far, going 3-4 hours between feedings and not waking up much otherwise during the night; relative to some newborn behavior, I clearly have nothing to complain about! Nonetheless, the interrupted and shortened nights I’ve been living with lately have reminded me of how valuable good sleep is to my overall health and well being! With just 2-3 hours a night shaved off my norm, I can see and feel negative effects on my skin, my eyes, my patience, my energy level, and my temperament. In my go-go-go days gone by, I’m not sure I even noticed the ill effects my lack of sleep and rest were having on my body, but now I’m acutely aware of the impact of lost sleep and inadequate rest.
At Nourish, I eventually talk with all of my clients about Rest. Rest with a capital “R” encompasses sleep, but also includes other forms of recovery and rejuvenation (like quietly reading a favorite book or magazine or sipping a lemonade in a lawn chair). But sleep? It’s at the very core of Rest.
Why? Because sleep has physical and psychological benefits that can’t be overlooked. To highlight just a few:
As we sleep, the cells in our bodies produce proteins that repair damage inflicted by stress, exercise, pollutants, and all sorts of other things we battle during our waking hours. The more sleep we get, the more restoration our bodies can perform.
Easier Weight Maintenance
Adequate sleep is believed to keep two appetite-regulating hormones (leptin which signals fullness and ghrelin which stimulates the feeling of hunger) in check. When they are in the right range, you are less likely to overeat. Beyond that, people who are overtired have less willpower to make healthy food choices – they are more tempted by sugar, caffeine and snacks with their promise of quick hits of energy.
Enhanced Focus and Alertness
Simply put, sleep refreshes us. We are more alert and can think better, drive better, and perform better after a good night of sleep.
Sleep has a positive effect on short term memory, allowing the brain to consolidate information taken in throughout the day so that it can be more easily recalled. This is why the ubiquitous college “all nighter” is counterproductive – wrapping up a study or work session and getting some sleep actually improves performance the next day.
I used to believe that NOT sleeping a lot increased my productivity – I had more waking hours to get things done, right? Wrong. What I know now is that getting enough sleep actually boosts my energy level and focus so dramatically that I’m able to get more done in less time.
Better Skin and Clearer Eyes
Pick up virtually any women’s magazine and you’ll find an article touting the benefits of sleep on skin and eyes. When you haven’t slept enough, it shows. Simple as that.
More Even Temperament
Tired people are prone to mood swings, anxiety, anger and depression. Simply getting more sleep can help to regulate all of these emotional conditions, thereby improving relationships and overall quality of life.
Most adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a day to perform at their peak. Yet many people today pride themselves on how LITTLE sleep they need. Haven’t you heard people bragging that they can get by on 4 or 5 hours? To that I say, if you feel great on 4-5 hours of sleep, just IMAGINE how you’d feel on 7!
Having learned and experienced the benefits of sleep, it’s now easier for me to justify an afternoon nap after a rough night with the baby. It’s easier to choose to go to bed early vs. staying up to finish one more thing on my never-ending To Do list. It’s easier to make those choices because I know they will pay dividends in all the benefits outlined above.
My hope is that you’ll give yourself the gift of experiencing these benefits firsthand by ensuring that you, too, are getting enough Zzzzzzzs.