The Importance of Sleep


What is the most foundational component of lifestyle choices that are the most beneficial to the human body?  Relationships? Exercise? Nutrition?  Although these components are critical to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the most important aspect is sleep.  That’s right, SLEEP!  According to Brandon Marcello, PhD, sleep is the foundational component of maintaining and promoting a healthy lifestyle.  Specifically, a study conducted by Goel and colleagues (2009) found that one night of sleep deprivation impairs your ability of conducting executive functions such as decision making, applying strategies, and attention span.  In fact, they found that one night of sleep deprivation impaired executive functioning ability equivalent to an intoxication of 0.10% blood alcohol content (BAC).  Interestingly, it was also found that subjects who only slept 5-6 hours impaired their executive functioning skills equal to a BAC of 0.05%.  In other words, inadequate sleep resulted in the inability to use higher levels of brain function equivalent to being intoxicated on alcohol.  Thus, it is evident that sleep is crucial for the maintenance and function of the brain. 

Now, you must be asking yourself, what is the optimal range for sleep? Ideally, the optimal range for sleep in adults is 7-9 hours and 8-10 hours for teens.  Thus, it is crucial that to get at least 8 hours of sleep a day to protect your mental health, physical health and quality of life. The full 8 hours is a crucial time point because of the cycles REM sleep in comparison with the amount of hours slept. According to the National Sleep Foundation, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is characterized when we dream during our sleep cycle and is shown to have beneficial effects towards memory, learning and mood.  Furthermore, Dr. Marcello reports 2 REM cycles during the first 5 hours of sleep, and an additional 3 REM cycles in the last 3 hours of sleep for an 8 hour sleep cycle.  Thus, it is evident how important and beneficial a full 8 hours of sleep can be. 

With all this knowledge on the importance of sleep, the question becomes how do I get 8 hours of sleep? The answer lies within sleep habits and the sleep environment.  An ideal sleep environment would embody a cool, quiet and dark room.  This can be achieved by turning off all electronic screens prior to bed, having a fan or white noise maker, and using a sleep mask.  An effective tool for adequate sleep habits is embedded within a bedtime routine.  A generic routine could consist of: turning off all electronic screens, listening to relaxing music while stretching out tight muscles, and reading a book for 30-45 minutes.  It is very important that you plan ahead with your bedtime routine and the wake up time.  For example, if your wake-up time is at 6 am, then sleeping should begin at 10 pm. Therefore, allow yourself an hour for your bedtime routine and meaning you should be in your sleep environment by 9pm. 

Overall, it is understood how critical sleep is towards the human body.  It is crucial for maintaining proper physical and mental health, as well as improving the quality of life.  Deprivation of sleep can impair higher levels of functioning in the brain such as decision making.  A full 8 hours of sleep is suggested to ensure more cycles of REM sleep, which is vital for learning, memory and emotional health.  A bedtime routine can be beneficial to establishing healthy sleep habits to facilitate an 8 hour sleep cycle.    

Goel, N., Rao, H., Durmer, J. S., & Dinges, D. F. (2009, September). Neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation. In Seminars in neurology (Vol. 29, No. 4, p. 320). NIH Public Access.

 

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