Understanding the Importance of Sleep

We’ve all been told that sleep is important, but many of us still fail to get in the recommended 7-9 hours each night. Stress, work schedules, nighttime routines and various stimulants—coffee, energy drinks, artificial light from electronic devices, smoking, alcohol and more—can all disrupt our circadian rhythm (aka our wake/sleep cycle) and cause us to lose out on quality shut-eye.

It’s easy enough to wave it all off and say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” But there are some serious benefits to getting in those z’s—and some serious consequences when we miss out.

The Phases of Sleep

As outlined by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, our sleep cycle has two phases: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-REM). Both phases are important for optimizing how our bodies function.

Tissue growth and repair occur during the NREM phase. The body uses this time to restore energy—making it particularly important for active individuals—and release hormones for growth and development.

REM sleep is when dreaming occurs; it’s the phase during which our minds process memories and emotions and manage stress. It’s vital for stimulating the regions of the brain used in learning and developing new skills.

What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Your body recharges by cycling through REM and NREM while you sleep. Waking up frequently in the middle of the night—whether because of noise interruptions, uncomfortable sleep conditions, needing to use the bathroom or even hormonal imbalances—places stress on our nervous system, especially if these nighttime disturbances happen often. In turn, our immune functions and mood may also be compromised. Sleep deprivation interferes with mental focus and concentration, and studies show it can age skin faster (on the flip side, adequate rest speeds up our skin’s metabolic rate, increasing cell growth and repair—beauty sleep indeed). In addition, ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.

Lack of sleep also messes with hunger hormones. A healthy brain regulates hunger by releasing the hormones leptin to suppress appetite and ghrelin to stimulate appetite. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, overstimulates ghrelin, making you feel hungry even when you don’t need food. The side effect? A high chance of weight gain. Worse still, the increase in calories consumed due to the production of ghrelin can increase insulin resistance and lead to type 2 diabetes.

How Do You Know if You’re Getting Enough Sleep?

Health professionals recommend getting in 7-9 hours of sleep. Some people may need more, some people may be able to thrive on less. Regardless of where you fall in that spectrum, here are some questions to ask yourself to gauge if you’re getting enough sleep each night.

  • Do you depend on caffeine to help you get through the day?
  • Are you sleepy at the wheel during your morning commute?
  • Are you struggling with weight gain despite your best efforts to eat well and exercise?
  • Do you have a hard time concentrating on your work?
  • Are you forgetful?
  • Do you feel irritable on a regular basis or experience frequent mood swings?
  • Do you feel unproductive most days?

Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? You may be sleep deprived. Read on for some tips on how to get in your full forty winks.

Simple but Effective Tips to Help You Sleep Better

Use the advice below to implement small adjustments to your lifestyle and make sleep a priority.

  • Develop daytime and nighttime routines; go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
  • Get in a moderate amount of exercise every day.
  • Re-evaluate your mattress: has it maintained structural integrity over the years? Does it dip in some places? Is it hard/soft enough?
  • Intentionally set the temperature of your bedroom each night—an environment that’s too hot or too cold could be keeping you up.
  • Limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol, especially at night.
  • Hide electronic devices or keep them out of your bedroom altogether; artificial light—no matter how small or dim—can disrupt sleep.
  • Install blackout curtains to limit exposure to outside lights.
  • Try a supplement: VitaYears™ Sleep Support is a powerful, natural sleep supplement that reinforces the body’s natural defenses and cellular systems to optimize sleep and promote longevity.