Sleeping is as essential to your health and wellbeing as are breathing, eating and drinking. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your physical and mental health, quality of life, and your safety and the safety of others.
The importance of getting sufficient, quality sleep on a consistent basis cannot be overestimated. Your health, including your heart health, depends on it.
We all know we cannot survive without sleep, but what are some of the specific health benefits of sleep? What happens to our bodies when we don’t get enough?
While you sleep, your body repairs cells and tissues, including your heart and blood vessels, and boosts your immune system, to fight off infection. When children and young adults sleep, their bodies release growth hormones, to support their growth and maturation. Sleep also supports brain function and mental health, improving your ability to learn, make decisions, solve problems, be creative and get along better with others.
Sleep deficiency is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity. Lack of sleep can hinder your daytime performance, making it more difficult to perform daily tasks and to be productive. Also, insufficient sleep can cause you to unintentionally fall asleep during the day, sometimes for very short periods (microsleep), even without your knowing. If you are sleep deficient, you are more prone to injury, including while driving.
How does your body know when to sleep?
Your body has an Internal “body clock” that controls when you are awake and asleep. It runs on a 24-hour hour rhythm, called the circadian rhythm. Throughout the day and night, your body releases chemicals to signal when to sleep and wake. Melatonin signals time for sleep; cortisol helps your body wake up.
Our sleeping patterns vary by age. Teens tend to go to sleep later and sleep later, small children go to sleep earlier, and older adults tend go to be earlier and wake up earlier.
Types of sleep
There are two types of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when most dreaming takes place, and non-REM sleep, which occur in cycles of about 90 – 120 minutes throughout night. Your health and well-being depend on getting enough total sleep but also enough of each type of sleep.
How much is enough?
How much sleep we need varies by age. The National Institutes of Health suggests that school-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teens need 9-10 hours, and adults need 7-8 hours.
Sleep quantity versus quality
According to a study conducted in 2014 by the National Sleep Foundation, 45 percent of Americans said that poor or insufficient sleep affected their daily activities at least once in the prior seven days. Despite sleeping within the recommended number of hours a night, 35 percent reported their sleep quality as “poor” or “only fair.” And 20 percent reported that they did not wake up feeling refreshed on any of the prior seven days.
The study also found that overall health was highly associated with sleep quality, as were life satisfaction and stress levels.
Tips for sound sleeping
Our bodies crave sleep, so why is a good night’s sleep so elusive to so many? Here are a few tips for getting the quality sleep you need, consistently.
- Keep a regular sleeping schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, on both weekdays and weekends.
- Use the hour before bed to prepare. Turn off the TV, computer or smartphone. Take a hot bath, meditate or read quietly.
- Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature, free of distracting light and noise.
- Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and heavy meals within a couple hours of bedtime.
- Limit your intake of caffeine, especially within eight hours of bedtime.
- Get plenty of exercise.
To learn more about heart-healthy living, schedule an appointment with a cardiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann online or by calling (713) 222-2273.