Pretty much everyone knows we need sleep to survive. Without getting a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis, you could end up with all sorts of sleep deprivation-related problems. These include feeling tired all the time, experiencing chronic inflammation, and a decline in your mental health.
That’s why it’s vital that you make getting a good night’s rest a priority no matter what else is going on in your life. The consequences of sleep loss are just too significant.
Why Do We Need Sleep?
The truth is science hasn’t worked out exactly why people need to sleep. There are a
“The big biological question about sleep is, why did an activity like sleep, which exposes all those who sleep to predators, become so necessary,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi.
Some medically reviewed studies suggest that sleep has a restorative function. Dreams may help with memory consolidation for various tasks. And even immune cells and muscle tissues seem to undergo repair or restoration during sleep.
What Happens if You Don’t Sleep Enough?
The practical reason why you need sleep is to avoid sleep deprivation, which can have a huge negative impact on your well-being. Chronic lack of sleep increases everything from stress, to cognitive impairment, poor performance at work and risk of car accidents.
Most sleep scientists agree most adults need betweenper night. If you don’t get that on a regular basis, you could experience a host of issues.
Sleep plays a vital role in cognitive function. If you don’t sleep or have poor sleep quality, you could experience short and long-term mental problems. Even acan lower your energy levels, making you more forgetful and less sharp. This can reduce your performance at work and make you feel like you have brain fog.
However, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to damage that may be permanent. Medically reviewedthe neural injury that results from chronic short sleep may be irreversible. That means ignoring your sleep needs might do a lot more than ruin your day. It could set you up for cognitive decline later in life.
Long-term sleep deprivation can put you at higher risk of a host of physical ailments like:
- Loss of immune system function
- And more!
Your levels of stress hormones change or increase when you don’t get enough sleep. This can cause you to lose appetite control and seek out high-calorie foods with loads of sugar and fat. A poor diet can impact your blood sugar and body weight. And both blood sugar spikes and weight gain increase your risk of developing diabetes.
Short sleep also has severe negative impacts on your heart health. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says not getting enoughto all sorts of cardiac problems, including stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Too little sleep or a lack of healthy sleep can also lead to lowered immune function. Deep sleep helps your immune system function properly. Without sufficient sleep, your immune systemto lose its strength, to all kinds of infectious diseases, from colds to deadlier illnesses that can lead to a host of potentially permanent health conditions.
Greater Accident Likelihood
Driving while drowsy greatly increases your likelihood of having a car accident. Sleep affects everything from your memory to your reflexes to your concentration. That means disturbed sleep can significantly increase your chances of not just car accidents but all accidents, from falls to spills to kitchen mishaps.
Does Sleep Quality Matter?
If you spend eight hours in bed per night but sleep poorly, you’re still going to suffer the consequences of sleep deprivation. Many people walk around chronically sleep-deprived not because they’re playing on their phones all night but because they’re not getting the quality of sleep they need. ‘
It’s easy to get less sleep than you think you’re getting if your natural sleep cycle is disturbed and you fail to achieve and maintain deep, restorative sleep. All kinds of sleep disorders can cause this to happen, such asand . A poor sleep environment can also cause you to experience low-quality sleep.
“Sleep serves a vital physiological function and is probably the single most important factor in exercise recovery,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “Besides helping the body to recover from fatigue by repairing processes, sleep also plays a vital role on neurophysiology, cognitive function, and mood, all of which have implications for elite athlete performance.”
“Therefore, ensuring a good night’s sleep should be part of the foundation of our daily routine.”
How Can I Improve My Sleep Quality?
Since failure to get enough sleep can lead to everything from high blood pressure to weight gain to heart disease and more, it’s safe to say we should all be motivated to get adequate sleep. However, in our stressful, hectic life, most of us are sleep-deprived on a regular basis. So how can we fix this?
Sleep hygiene is an important part of getting the quantity and quality of sleep your body and brain need. If you want eight hours of sleep and aren’t getting it, you can make a few lifestyle changes that can help you get enough sleep.
Fix Your Sleep Environment
Your surroundings have a huge impact on how easy it is to fall and stay asleep. So for optimal sleep (and optimal health), your bedroom needs to be an ideal sleeping environment. You’ll need a quiet room free of spikes in noise levels or distractions. Your room should also be completely dark to prevent light from disturbing your sleep.
You also need the perfect room temperature to fall asleep. Your core temperature drops during sleep, so a cooler room can help you feel drowsy and ready for bed. Aim for a room temperature between 65 and 70 degrees, though if this is too cold for you, you can go warmer.
Adhere to a Sleep Schedule
Your circadian rhythm is a vital part of your sleep and can impact how much sleep you get. Most circadian rhythm problems are caused by your environment. Shift work, changing work or school schedules, and other schedule changes can impact your circadian rhythm.
Another big factor is staying up late on the weekends and getting up early during the weekdays. This behavior prevents you from developing a consistent sleep schedule and may affect the timing of your circadian rhythms. This is why it’s vital to adhere to a consistent bedtime and wake time every day of the week if you can.
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
You can’t expect to get good sleep if you’re sedentary and drinking coffee until dinner. That means a healthy diet and physical activity are vital to avoiding sleep deprivation. Physical activity is especially important to getting a good night’s sleep.of day raises your core body temperature and then allows it to fall after about 30 to 90 minutes. This can help signal to the body it’s time to start preparing to initiate the sleep cycle.
Exercise also releases endorphins, which can signal to your body that it’s time to wind down as they get flushed from the body. All this means exercising at least two hours before bedtime can help your body regulate its sleep rhythm and improve sleep function.
Ditch the Tech
Blue light from screens is a relatively new threat to your ability to get adequate sleep. Blue lightbecause blue light hitting the eye signals to your body that it’s time to be awake.
Since virtually all screens emit blue light, from TVs to computers to phones and tablets, it’s important to stop looking at screens at least an hour before bed. You should also use blue light filters on your screens as soon as the sun goes down. Also, consider blue-blocking glasses or red artificial lights at night.
How can I improve my sleep if I have a sleep disorder?
Untreated sleep disorders like sleep apnea or circadian rhythm disorders can cause severe sleep deprivation. This can be true even if you think you’re getting sufficient sleep.
For example, sleep apnea sufferers often enter the early stages of sleep but fail to achieve or maintain sleep. That means they can be experiencing sleep deprivation without even realizing it.
If sleep disorders are causing you to experience a lack of sleep or poor sleep, it’s vital to see an expert in sleep medicine right away. A healthcare professional specializing in sleep can help you narrow down your sleep problems and treat them so you can get more sleep.
When should I stop looking at screens for a good night’s sleep?
Looking at screens after dark can suppress melatonin production, pushing the body’s circadian rhythm later and reducing both the quantity and quality of your sleep. That means you need to shut off the TV, computer, and other devices at least an hour before bed. Even earlier is better.
To avoid looking at blue light all night, you can also get a blue light filter for your devices. However, while a blue light filter is a good way to avoid looking at blue light after the sun goes down, it’s no substitute for shutting off your devices at least an hour before you want to go to sleep.
Can sleep help improve my memory?
Being sleep-deprived can definitely negatively impact your memory. That makes getting sufficient sleep important for maintaining and improving short and long-term memory. But it’s more than just short-term impacts on your memory you have to worry about when it comes to the wrong amount of sleep.
There is a growing body ofthat suggest getting too much or too little sleep can greatly increase your likelihood of developing dementia later in life. So if you want to improve and preserve your memory into old age, getting the right amount of sleep is a good place to start.
Does my mattress impact the quality of my sleep?
A bad mattress can absolutely cause you to experience a lack of sleep or poor quality sleep. If your mattress fails to keep you comfortable, it could prevent you from falling asleep, keep you from staying asleep, or both.
That means a comfortable mattress is vital to an ideal sleeping environment. Your mattress should offer you the right level of contouring and support to keep your spine aligned and your pressure points alleviated. If your current mattress isn’t doing this, it’s time for a new one.
How do I know if I’m experiencing poor quality sleep?
If you enter the early stages of sleep but fail to achieve the deeper ones, it can be tough to know that you’re actually experiencing sleep deprivation. However, you will notice a few symptoms.
If you’re feeling drowsy or groggy during the day, it could be a sign you’re getting poor sleep. Brain fog, meaning poor memory and impaired cognitive function, can also be a big clue your sleep quality isn’t the best. Feeling fatigued all the time, no matter what you eat or what you do, can be another clue.
You need to take all these signs seriously. But if you find yourself falling asleep during the day, especially during activities where you should be engaged (like driving), you need to get to a sleep clinic or sleep specialist right away.
You cannot ignore getting sufficient sleep. Sleep helps everything from disease control to weight gain prevention to heart and pancreas function and cognitive health. That makes sleep important to just about every aspect of your well-being. So it’s vital to ensure you’re getting good sleep no matter what. No amount of caffeine or sugar is a substitute for better sleep.