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Why Sleep is Important & How to Get Better At It

in Health

why sleep is importantHave you ever considered that you’re going to spend 36% of your life asleep (give or take a few percentages)?

That means that if you were to live until 90, you’d spend 32 years asleep.

The fact that our bodies spend this enormous amount of time in this particular state should tell us that sleep is important.

Yet very few people take their sleep seriously and for the most part we tend to view sleep as a waste of time.

It’s not.

The (Quite Shocking) Effects of Sleep Deprivation

If you refuse to give your body and mind the well deserved rest it’s begging for, you may be looking at some very alarming effects like:

Obesity
Lack of sleep lead us to gain weight. We’re actually about 50% more likely of being obese if we sleep five hours or less at night.

This is because a lack of sleep triggers the hunger hormone ghrelin which gets us to crave carbohydrates – especially sugars.

Unhealthy cravings
When you’re sleep deprived your brain tries to make up for it by craving drugs and stimulants like nicotine and coffee.

A lot of people then use alcohol to wind down at night. The problem with this is that it’s very easy to to make this a habit in which the alcohol can cause harm the neural processing, memory consolidation and memory recall.

Increased stress levels
Sustained stress associated with sleep loss also leads to suppressed immunity. This in turn can lead to deceases like:

Decreased cognitive functioning
Which means poor memory, lessened creativity, increased impulsiveness and worse judgement.

On top of that, sleep deprivation can be fatal for ourselves and for others as 31% of drivers will fall asleep at the wheel at least once in their lives.

How to Get Better Sleep

On the other hand, taking your sleep seriously lead to decreases in mood change, stress, anger, impulsiveness, drinking and smoking.

Oh, and also increased concentration, attention, decision making, creativity, social skills and overall health.

Pretty sweet, huh? So, how do you get serious about your sleep? I’m glad I asked! 🙂

1. Establish how much sleep you need.
Listen to what your body is telling you. Are you getting enough sleep? If you’re not sure, pay attention to what other people tell you. Do they often say you look tired? If yes, you’re likely lacking sleep.

Eight hours of sleep is what most adults need each night (teenagers need more) but that’s an average and it’s up to you to figure out if your body needs more or less.

2. Turn your bedroom into a haven for sleep.
Make it slightly cool and as dark as you possibly can. Light, whether it be sunlight or a lamp tells our circadian clock that it’s time to be awake and inhibits the sleep hormone melatonin from being released in the brain.

If you can’t make the room pitch black, a comfortable sleep mask can be a great alternative.

3. Wind down before bedtime
Reduce the amount of light exposure into your eyes at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep. Ban all sorts of screens (TV, computers, mobile phones) from your bedroom and avoid them as you wind down.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep after using your computer I highly recommend f.lux which is a very cool free software that makes the color of your computer screen adapt to your local time of day.

Don’t brush your teeth in a massively lit bathroom right before you go to bed and try to avoid caffeine late in the day (ideally after lunch).

4. Help your brain out
Just like you reduce the amount of light before sleep, you should increase the light exposure in the morning right away when you get out of bed.

By doing this you help your brain to set your circadian clock to a proper light-dark cycle so that it knows when to get tired and when to be wide awake.

What’s Next?

Good luck with implementing these strategies for better sleep. I know you’ll love the results because they’ve worked great for me.

Before you go I have two things to ask of you:

1. Please share your favorite tips for getting better sleep in the comments.
2. Think of two friends that should know why sleep is important and/or how to get better at it, and then let them know by emailing this article to them.

Thank you to circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster whos awesome TED talk inspired this article.