I don’t know why, but one of the most difficult things for some of us is to go to bed on time and to wake up rested. There is often something more interesting, more glamorous and more important than going to bed. If we add to this the difficulties that many have with falling asleep and the quality of sleep, then the mission of 8 hours solid sleep becomes a luxury that not everyone can achieve. Yet, sleep remains one of the simplest and healthiest medicines to can take. From our ability to think clearly to the successful functioning of our immune system, sleep influences many processes in the organism that improve and prolong our quality of life.
Why should we sleep?
Matthew Walker, a well-known sleep scientist, and his colleagues conducted an experiment where a group of people were left awake all night while another group slept for 8 hours. The next day, the difference in cognitive abilities between the two groups was over 40%. The ability of the brain to learn and use what was learned dropped dramatically for those who have not slept. So the next time you decide not to sleep in order to spend the night studying, remember that the result may not be what you were hoping for. Sleep is a biological necessity, the lack of which disturbs the whole body and without which we are not adapted to function.
How is the body affected by lack of sleep?
The hippocampus, which is responsible for the proper storage and organization of memories, is strongly influenced by the absence of sleep. The storage and retention of new memories gets impaired and people who do not sleep enough or at all have memory problems. In the long run lack of sleep speeds up the aging process and shortens our lives.
Good sleep is one of the most effective “serums” for the skin. Sleep between 7 and 9 hours helps to restore the skin and its hydration. Good sleep stimulates collagen production and allows the skin to recover from ultraviolet rays.
Acute lack of sleep also affects the cardiovascular system. When we change the clocks in the spring and winter by one hour for daylight savings, there is an increase or decrease in heart attacks depending on whether we lose or gain time for sleep.
In addition to the heart, our white blood cells (the fighters of the immune system) are affected by lack of sleep. With less than 4 hours of sleep, there is a decrease of 70% in the activity of the white blood cells, or simply put it is much easier to get sick when we lack sleep. Viral infections, such as herpes, flu and colds, are exacerbated due to lack of sleep as the immune system is affected.
If you sleep less than 6 hours a night, the rate of genetic mutations increases, making it easier for different types of cancer to develop, such as breast, prostate and gastrointestinal cancer.
How many hours of sleep do we need? Can we make up for lost sleep?
Over the years, our need for sleep changes. New-borns sleep from 14 to 17 hours, babies and children up to 2 years of age need 11 – 14 hours. In kindergarten we need from 10-13 hours, while in the early school years the need drops to 9 – 11 hours. Teenagers enjoy 8 – 10 hours, while adults have a good rest with 7 to 9 hours. But what happens if you don’t get the needed amount of sleep? Is it possible to catch up? The answer to this question depends on the number of hours. Up to 5 hours a week can be recovered over the weekend, but if you miss more than 20 hours, it becomes difficult to catch up.
What should we do to sleep better?
- Go to bed at the same time every day – go to bed early enough to get 8 hours of sleep. Follow a regular schedule of falling asleep and waking up at the same time even during weekends.
- Sleep at a lower temperature – the optimal sleeping temperature is 18 degrees on average. You can try and sleep with the window open.
- Do not have a big meal at least 4 hours before bedtime.
- Do not drink alcohol – it interferes with your rest and sleep patterns.
- Do not drink caffeinated beverages in the late afternoon – caffeine can disrupt your sleep even 6 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid using your phone in bed – try to not look at your phone for at least 30 minutes before bed. The blue light from the screen suppresses the production of melatonin, and the emotions caused by social media can slow down your REM sleep.
And now have a good night and sleep tight!