The Science Behind Sleep: How Restful Sleep Helps Balance Work and Life
We could all use a little more sleep. When you become a parent, getting a full eight hours is as rare as it is important to your health. Those 3 a.m. diaper changes and bleary-eyed nursing sessions can really take a toll on your well-being, but uninterrupted sleep is vital. Here’s the science behind counting sheep.
1. Sharpening Your Mental Skills
If it seems like you’re less organized and slower to react after a sleepless night, that’s because you are. Research shows staying awake for 24 straight hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol level of 0.10%, which is above the legal limit to drive.
Sleep makes all the difference when it comes to keeping a clear head. It strengthens your memory, attention span and test-taking skills, helping you learn faster and make better choices. Sleeping well can even improve your reaction time.
The next time you have a choice between staying up two hours late or going to bed on time, choose the latter. It can make all the difference in how you feel the next morning.
2. Boosting Your Mood
You don’t need a formal study to know that you tend to be in a better mood the next day when you sleep well. Getting a full night’s rest makes you calmer, happier and more patient, helping you handle anything that comes your way. It enables you to get along better with people at home and work. That often improves your mood even more and creates a positive feedback loop.
Maximize your mental health by going to bed and waking up at consistent times. Having kids certainly adds an element of chaos to your schedule, but once they’re sleeping through the night, it’s time to stick to your own bedtime routine.
Keeping your bedroom clean can also help you sleep better. Pollen, dust and pet hair can trigger allergies that make it hard to fall asleep, so give your room a thorough cleaning before turning in for the night.
3. Cleaning up Your Brain
Few people know about this strange benefit of getting good sleep. Sleeping removes waste that builds up over time in your brain.
Harmful amyloid-beta proteins naturally accumulate in your brain, which flushes them out. This cleanup crew is called the glymphatic system. If these proteins build up faster than your body can process them, they clump together and form plaque, which causes Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies have found that your glymphatic system goes into overdrive while you sleep. The cleanup crew works twice as hard, flushing out harmful plaque faster. Researchers aren’t yet sure if this cleaning boost could help prevent degenerative diseases. However, there seems to be a connection between getting better sleep and having a lower chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Looking Good
Beauty sleep is a real phenomenon. Good sleep improves your overall appearance by brightening up dark circles under your eyes, preventing droopy eyelids and lowering the chance of developing wrinkles. One study found that sleeping only three hours a night changed the hydration, pH and elasticity of participants’ skin.
5. Promoting Heart Health
Getting a full night’s sleep — which experts define as seven to nine hours per night for adults — lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. This reduces the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure or heart failure. It gives your whole cardiovascular system a chance to rest and recharge.
6. Strengthening Your Immune System
In addition to helping your heart, sleeping well bolsters your ability to fight off disease. Consistent sleep makes you less likely to get sick after exposure to a virus. Even if you do, you’re more likely to recover quickly. That translates to more quality time at home and better productivity at work.
7. Maintaining a Healthy Weight
As if it wasn’t enough to be exhausted, sleep deprivation can also lead to weight gain. Sleeping produces more of a hunger-suppressing hormone called leptin. It also reduces your production of ghrelin, a chemical that makes you hungry.
When you don’t get enough sleep — or wake up several times throughout the night — you ramp up your production of ghrelin and produce less leptin. You then crave a second or third helping of pancakes in the morning. It’s counterproductive if you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight.
However, don’t rely on sleep deprivation to help you bulk up, either. Sleeping is crucial for building muscle and recovering from running and weight training. It releases the growth hormones necessary to get stronger and repair tissue. Plus, sleeping well reduces your risk of getting hurt during exercise.
Getting a good night’s rest does more than just help you stay awake through school plays and parent-teacher conferences. It also keeps your mind and body healthy so you feel better at work and home.
It’s time to hit the sack — and if anyone tries to wake you, remind them that sleep is as important to your health as eating or drinking.
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