Adequate sleep is a tremendous gift for both body and mind, according to an article in Science Focus. The article details the restorative benefits of sleep and discusses the negative consequences of inadequate slumber.
Dr. Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, offers a thorough look at the advantages of a good night’s sleep. He addresses the adverse effects of insufficient sleep and answers common questions about sleep and the body.
The Benefits of Good Sleep
Getting enough sleep, he says, offers “quite remarkable health benefits.” Memory, learning, the immune system, and physical and mental health are all positively affected. In contrast, too few hours of sleep has a markedly negative effect on those same body systems.
He also notes that the freedom to follow natural circadian rhythms was an unexpected benefit for some during the pandemic. Night owls not forced into early rising got more hours of sleep.
The High Price of Inadequate Sleep
Dr. Walker takes a painful journey through the havoc wrought by skimping on sleep. Increased risk of heart attack and stroke, decreased reproductive hormones, and impaired immune function are among the many adverse consequences.
Insufficient sleep has been linked to increased anxiety and depression. Sadly, it has also been linked with increased thoughts of and deaths by suicide.
Getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night has also been linked to diabetes, obesity, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Research is indicating that the brain has a self-cleaning system. Various contaminants build up in the brain during waking hours. The brain’s glymphatic system gets to work removing harmful build-up during deep sleep.
Dr. Walker notes that the toxic protein beta-amyloid, linked to Alzheimer’s disease, builds up in the brain without sufficient deep sleep. He posits that addressing insomnia and other sleep disorders may help ward off Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
Common Sleep Questions Answered
In discussing the chemical adenosine that induces sleep, Walker notes, “you can hit the mute button on the healthy sleep signal of adenosine with caffeine.” While that may allow more wakefulness during the day, he cautions that it can affect your ability to sleep at night.
Dr. Walker describes dreaming, or REM sleep, as “emotional first aid.” The brain processes experiences in the safe environment of REM sleep. A good night’s sleep can help soothe and calm heightened emotions.
Sleep and Weight Loss
Getting enough sleep leads to sufficient production of one hormone that regulates food satisfaction and another that creates feelings of hunger. A proper balance helps people maintain a healthy weight.
Sleep deprivation inhibits impulse control, leading to unhealthy food choices. Further, it causes the body to burn more muscle than fat.
To reap the restorative benefits of sleep and avoid the negative consequences of sleep deprivation, researchers recommend at least seven hours of sleep a night. The article points out, “…each of us has the choice to turn the tables on all this research by cultivating better sleep habits.”