The difference that a good night's sleep can make day really cannot be understated. The feeling of staring into space when all you want is to get back under the covers is a truly special form of hopelessness. It’s something we all feel every now and again. We all know that sleep is important to us on a deeper level even without being told. I have struggled to maintain healthy sleep for most of my life, and so this topic is something I’m very interested in.
Getting a good night's sleep is an incredibly important part of our general wellbeing, and it can be hard to function without it. Here are some of the best ways that rest helps keep us healthy, both in our mind and our body.
Stress and Anxiety
Sleep has a myriad of benefits when it comes to wellbeing, but one of the clearest ways it can affect us is emotionally. This is far more obvious when we don't sleep- we often feel anxious and upset. There is a physiological reason for this. Studies have found that those who went through an all-nighter experienced reduced activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. They also found areas responsible for emotional centers such as the amygdala to be hyperactive. Over the course of the study, those who had less sleep experienced an increase in anxiety and emotional dysregulation. If we consider just how much of an effect poor sleep can have on our mood, this does seem plausible. We become easily stressed and upset because we are more sensitive to stimuli and are simply unable to regulate how we feel.
In this situation, battling anxiety can become a vicious cycle. You get a bad nights sleep and so you feel anxious the next day, which makes it harder for you to process the days events in a healthy way. You in turn are anxious when you try to rest which makes your sleep quality lower, and so the cycle continues. Taking some time before you sleep to acknowledge what’s troubling you proactively can help lessen heightened thinking before you sleep, so you can come back to these difficult feelings when you are in a better position to tackle them. Writing down your worries or discussing them with someone close to you can help take the strain off for the time being.
Better Relationships with Others
As stated previously, sleep can have a big impact on our emotional wellbeing as well as our relationship with others. If we feel fatigued it becomes harder to commit to the things we set out to do, including seeing those we care about. We may show up to a scheduled meet up with friends agitated or upset, which really hinders our ability to enjoy ourselves. Lack of sleep has also been found to affect your language, reasoning and communication skills, things we constantly rely on without thinking about it.
It's a well-known fact that sleep affects our concentration and academic performance. We are often told to get an early night before a big exam in the same breath that we are told to eat a good meal. If we don’t get enough sleep it can inhibit our brain’s ability to function, reducing concentration and energy levels considerably.
Yet there is evidence to suggest that it’s not always the amount of sleep you get, but the type of sleep. Studies looking into chronotypes (difference between people who wake and sleep earlier or later) found that people who wake later performed worse on examinations. The suggestion here is not that later sleepers are less intelligent, but that because night owls are at their cognitive peak in the evenings they cannot perform at their full potential. Finding a balance may be the key to sleeping well and feeling good.
As well as your mind, sleep is also when most of the your body’s healing takes place. This is partially why when we feel ill we instinctually want to lie down. We all know that rest can do us good, but some of the physical benefits are a little more subtle.
Poor quality sleep can increase the chances of developing cardiovascular issues, as waking up too often is believed to kick in your sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the fight or flight response). To respond to a perceived threat, your heart rate and blood pressure increase- so continually doing this can lead to the blood pressure remaining too high. Much of the body's ability to regulate internal systems is restricted when we are in a state of high stress, with high blood pressure being associated with heart problems and greater chances of strokes.
Part of why we sleep is to keep up energy levels, so when you have trouble sleeping it uses more energy than normal. This in turn can cause an increase in appetite as your body tries to compensate for the energy being used up. We are more likely to crave foods that give us an immediate boost, such as those heavy or high in sugar. This results in a greater likelihood of overeating, especially later on in the day. This coupled with lower energy and motivation caused by tiredness can be difficult to handle. Knowing how our bodies work and why we feel these urges can help us to tackle them in ways that are better in the long run. We don’t even necessarily need to cut out these behaviours entirely, but finding the right balance can do our bodies a world of good.
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