Why We Need Sleep: Health Benefits

What Is Sleep?

Sleep is a universal requirement for animals, including humans. In Japan, researchers are devoted to studying why. Despite sleep creating a risk for mammals and other animals as they slumber defenselessly each day or night, this habit is obviously an important part of our existence, as it says in the article, Why Do We Need to Sleep?

"Whatever sleep gives to the sleeper is worth tempting death over and over again, for a lifetime."

Scientists have theorized that the brain must build up sleep-inducing chemicals during the day that dissipate only when we're sleeping. There's been some evidence of that, and sleep-inducing neurotransmitters have been identified. The hormone melatonin, for example, promotes sleep. It's suppressed when our retinas detect light, and it begins to build up when it's darker. That's one reason behavioral habits, like going to bed even if you're not sleepy yet, can promote healthy sleep patterns.

The neurotransmitter GABA influences muscle relaxation and sedation. Various other neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, also have a role in keeping us either awake and alert or asleep. In addition, like other animals, humans' sleep and waking patterns are influenced by our circadian rhythm. That's like an internal clock regulated by the inhibition and release of hormones and other neurotransmitters.


Benefits of Sleep

Researchers believe that sleep is an opportunity for the body to rest and repair the tissues and neurons that make up the body and brain. The nervous system has a chance to rest, and brain activity slows down. During sleep, the things we learned during the day are reinforced because neurons are strengthened and "rewired" to form permanent pathways that become part of our memory.

Sleep also allows our bodies to recover after a long day of activity, and there's a rise in the release of growth hormone during the first deep sleep of the night. Stress hormones aren't produced when we're sleeping, and their levels dissipate the longer we sleep. Muscles have the chance to repair damage and create new cells. Sleep also boosts the body's immunity to disease, which means a well-rested person is less likely to catch a cold, for example. Here are some of the positive effects you can experience when well rested.

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Feel Better

Sleep reduces inflammation in the body because when you're at rest, metabolic resources can be devoted to healing. Inflammation is a primary factor is ailments like heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. Getting enough sleep can even lower your blood pressure because it reduces the stress hormones like cortisol that contribute to hypertension.


Look Better

Under-eye circles are a hereditary trait, but being well-rested can minimize them. On the other hand, a lack of sleep can emphasize dark circles under the eyes. That's why they're always included in any caricature of a sleepless person. Your body also has time and energy to generate new skin cells, and that helps your complexion.


Enjoy Better Health

Lack of sleep is associated with weight gain, possibly due to the release of a hormone that influences hunger. It can also keep you from having enough energy to go for a walk or hit the gym. Getting a full night's sleep can actually help you burn more calories because your body uses fat stores for energy when you're sleeping. If you're in bed in the evening, it also keeps you away from the temptation of late-night snacking.

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Accomplish More

Once you reach a certain level of tiredness, you can't really absorb information very well. It's the reason that you sometimes can't complete an assignment or project and feel as if you're getting nowhere. You put it aside, come back when you're well-rested, and it's finished in no time! We need enough rest to be able to complete physical tasks as well. Sleep gives you the energy to take a walk, cook a healthy meal, and do a variety of other tasks to improve your quality of life.


What Happens When You Don't Get Enough Sleep?

A chronic lack of sleep can lead to damaging mental and physical effects on human beings. Here are a few of the more common ones.


Mental Fatigue

Burn-out is a term that refers to not being able to focus or concentrate, and it's also connected to emotional volatility. One trigger for burn-out is fatigue caused by lack of sleep. Have you ever thought you faced an insurmountable issue, only to "sleep on it", and then recognize a clear path to solving it? That's because lack of sleep slows the mental processes, and adequate sleep stimulates creativity. Sleep allows our brains to work subconsciously, making connections during sleep that can help us to be alert and effective when we're awake.

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Diminished Attention

Insufficient sleep can have an effect on driving, and many accidents have occurred due to inattentiveness caused by fatigue. Recent studies indicate that up to ten percent of auto accidents may involve drowsy driving. Getting behind the wheel after a poor night's sleep can be the equivalent of having a drink right before driving. Long shifts by sleep-deprived medical personnel can also lead to diagnosis and treatment errors.


Depression

In some people, a lack of sleep is a trigger for depression. Many who suffer from depression are plagued by disordered thoughts and anxious feelings. Going without sleep adds mental exhaustion and diminished perception to the mix. A restful night's sleep can often make a positive difference in emotional health. During sleep, the nerve synapses reorder themselves and can break out of negative thought loops.

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Fatigue

Physically, you can tell when you're sleepy because you become tired and lack energy for tasks that would be easy if you were rested. Although many of us don't realize it, our reflexes also slow when we're tired, and accidents can occur. That's why people are always told not to drive or operate machinery when they take medicine that can lead to drowsiness. Effects of sleep deprivation have been well-documented and include irritability, disorientation and hallucinations. It's actually possible to survive longer without food than without sleep!


Long-Term Effects

Chronic lack of sleep can lead to a greater likelihood of ending up with Alzheimer's disease in old age. That's because a chemical called tau can build up in the brain, and it causes neurons to tangle, sometimes permanently. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to the presence of two proteins associated with Alzheimer's disease.


Improve Your Sleep Through Food Choices

A diet high in foods containing antioxidants facilitates sleep in part because of the toxins that are eliminated from the body. Fruits and vegetables also help your digestion remain regular, and that helps you sleep more comfortably and soundly. Having a dinner that includes protein, vegetables and healthy fats will satisfy your appetite and help you resist evening snacking. As a matter of fact, healthy, unsaturated fats provide the building blocks for your body to produce the hormones that help you sleep.


These Supplements May Help You Sleep Better

Taking herbal supplements, vitamins and minerals is an alternative to the use of prescription drugs for sleep. Drugs can act upon the entire nervous system, not just the sleep centers of the brain. Other possible problems are side effects like headaches, muscle aches, and memory loss. Increasing tolerance may require larger doses, and the effects of sleep medication can carry over into the next day if the drug isn't completely metabolized.

Vitamins and herbal remedies may help you get a better night's sleep naturally. It's worth trying this route first, before taking pharmaceuticals for sleeping problems. Here are a few supplements commonly used to facilitate sleep.


5-HTP

A compound that's derived from L-tryptophan, 5-HTP is a precursor of serotonin and melatonin, two neurotransmitters that help you sleep.

Chamomile

One cup of chamomile tea before bedtime can have a mild sedative effect. Studies have shown that chamomile acts on brain receptors that induce sleep.

L-Theanine

A prime active component of green tea, L-Theanine has a calming effect that encourages sleep.

Melatonin

This hormone increases at night, contributing to a good night's sleep. A small amount of melatonin taken right before sleeping can give your natural melatonin a boost.

Valerian

Historically, this powdered root has been used to reduce anxiety and induce a calm state, possibly by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain. Taking it an hour before bedtime can help you sleep better, and the full effects can be seen with regular use.

VITAMINS: B-Complex, D, E

  • B-complex can prevent leg cramps that interrupt sleep.
  • B-12 helps boost melatonin production.
  • Sufficient vitamin D can lead to a longer and deeper sleep.
  • Vitamin E can relieve night sweats.

MINERALS: Iron, Calcium, Magnesium

  • Iron deficiency can cause "restless leg syndrome", in which sleep is interrupted by the need to constantly move the legs.
  • Calcium helps convert tryptophan in the brain to melatonin. That may be why a glass of warm milk before bed is said to induce sleep, as it contains calcium and tryptophan.
  • Magnesium relieves muscle tension and promotes relaxation. It's also a crucial ingredient of metabolic processes, including those that take place during sleep.

Cautions

Although all of these natural substances may have a role to play in sleeping, they shouldn't be the first thing to try for a good night's sleep. Creating an environment that facilitates rest can make a major difference in the quality and duration of your sleep. Also, sleeplessness is sometimes a symptom of an underlying medical condition. If you can't get enough sleep through a regular nighttime routine, healthy eating choices, and good exercise habits, see your doctor for a checkup.


How to Get Enough Sleep

First, establish a routine for each evening that includes downtime for the last couple of hours before bedtime. If a warm bath, a glass of milk, or a cup of tea helps you sleep better, make the time for those things. There are ongoing studies about the effect of electronic screens on sleep quality, so avoiding them for at least an hour before you go to bed might help. Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, as that will help you relax and drift off to sleep.

Sleep is also influenced by what you eat and the amount of caffeine, sugar and alcohol in your food and beverage choices. Coffee and energy drinks work by blocking the receptors that let you know you're tired, giving you an artificial energy boost that you'll pay for later. Too much caffeine can interfere with your sleep habits and make it harder to establish a healthy sleeping routine. Alcohol may make you sleepy, but even one drink before bedtime can lower the quality of your sleep.

Some people feel that good sleep is hard to manage without help from supplements or drugs. However, not everyone needs these sleeping aids. Getting the right amount of quality sleep is mainly a matter of routine, setting, and attitude. And adding even a moderate amount of exercise to your day will increase your ability to sleep soundly at night. You have a lot of control over your sleeping habits. Use these suggestions to create your own ideal sleeping situation, and enjoy a good night's sleep!


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