For some people, skipping sleep is a sign of strength and productivity. Health professionals, however, have called for a cultural shift in our thinking: getting enough sleep is not only important for your physical health, it’s also one of the most productive things you can do. In fact, a good night’s sleep can help you learn better at school or work, improve your relationships and increase your overall wellbeing. It can even prolong your life.
The term “sleep” refers to a recurring pattern of inactivity and altered consciousness that occurs on a regular basis in almost all living organisms. It is a complex, yet flexible behavior that can be distinguished from wakefulness by the characteristic posture of relaxed skeletal muscles and an absence of overt goal-directed behaviors. It has been suggested that certain electroencephalogram (EEG) patterns of brain activity are associated with the behavioral state of sleep and that these patterns can be reliably recognized in individuals. Although a precise definition of sleep has yet to be established, a wide range of behavioral, motor, sensory and physiological criteria have been identified. These criteria may be absent in some cases, as with the behavior of sleepwalking, or present during certain activities, such as waking while asleep, but these exceptions are not considered to constitute true wakefulness.
During sleep, our bodies do a lot of work that we don’t always realize or appreciate. From repairing muscles to reorganizing memories, many processes take place while we’re slumbering. It is known that sleep contributes to our emotional regulation, influencing both mood and emotions. It is also believed that memory is enhanced during sleep. However, exactly how sleep promotes memory and learning remains a mystery.
Another area in which sleep is critical is the immune system. Researchers believe that a lack of sleep can inhibit the body’s ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. This is why it’s important to get plenty of rest when you’re sick, stressed or traveling. Sleep allows the body to produce cytokines, which are proteins that fight infection, and antibodies, which destroy harmful germs.
In addition, research has shown that sleep can help prevent heart disease by helping to regulate blood glucose levels. This is important because a lack of sleep can lead to high blood sugar and diabetes, which in turn can increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke.
To ensure you are getting adequate rest, it is recommended that you maintain a routine sleep schedule and go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. Taking steps to relax before bed, such as having a cup of herbal tea or reading a book, can also help. Those who need additional assistance with their sleep may want to talk to a doctor or a sleep specialist. They can ask more detailed questions and do an overnight sleep study to monitor your behavior in real time. The bottom line is that a lack of sleep will reduce you in just about every way imaginable, so it’s important to make it a priority.