Benefits of Sleep
Imagine that a team of doctors invented a drug that could improve your motivation, focus, stress levels, injury risk, memory, glucose metabolism, muscle recovery and could even rebalance your hormones. Would you want to fix at least one of those? If so, it’s all yours.
This drug is available to everyone for free, every day—in fact, every night. It’s sleep. The power of sleep is highly underrated, yet it is a fundamental element of optimal health and human physiology. We should spend at least one-third of our lives sleeping, but in today’s world a growing number of people aren’t getting the quality and quantity of sleep they need.
“Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced. Additionally, sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and mental distress.
Jay Khorsandi, a sleep expert based in Southern California, has been helping patients improve their health for years through proper sleep patterns. He says the costs of lack of sleep range from dipping energy levels, cognitive decline and early aging to weight gain, moodiness and more. The list can go on and on.
“It’s an exception for somebody to have good sleep these days,” he says. “While too little sleep can cause a problem, too much sleep can be a sign of one, such as an underlying disease or inflammation that your body is trying to recover with staying asleep.” Khorsandi advises that six hours is too little, and nine is too much.
The benefits of a good night’s sleep can be noticeable almost immediately. You might feel more alert and focused, and experience better executive function and attitude and fewer food cravings.
A lot of what makes up nighttime routine will affect what happens to the body while asleep. We cycle through five sleep stages about five times each night: two light, two deep and one REM (rapid eye movement) stage. Out of these, deep sleep is crucial to the body to repair muscles and tissues, stimulate growth and development, boost immune function and build up energy. Additionally, REM is when dreaming occurs, plus that’s when the brain stores the information from the day before, so it’s key to healthy memory and cognition.
Cutting a night short means cutting the amount of time the body spends in those restorative stages, which can cause problems during the waking hours.
Temperature and light are two of the main influencers of sleep quality. The human body has a natural circadian clock that corresponds to the time of day. As the sun sets and the air cools, the human body is biologically designed to turn up the production of melatonin (sleep hormone) and prepare for rest. The body tends to lose heat at night, dropping one to two degrees, which helps you fall and stay asleep.
Many modern habits and living conditions, however, can wreak havoc on those bodily functions: for example, watching TV or being on a smart device before falling asleep, eating too close to bedtime or being in a room that’s too warm all can affect sleep quality.
“The bedroom should be your sanctuary,” says Claus Pummer, certified holistic sleep coach and North American importer of the Samina sleep system. He believes that the bed is key to optimal rest and recovery.
“There’s a missing link, as most consumers are not aware of the contents of their mattress and disregard the importance of certain elements,” he says. “A healthy bed should be metal free,” Pummer says explaining that metal springs can act as little antennae driving radiofrequencies and electromagnetic exposure into the body, which is highly irritating for the mitochondria, can lower melatonin release, increase cortisol (stress hormone) and decrease oxygen levels in the blood.
Another important aspect of quality sleep that both Khorsandi and Pummer advocate is sleeping on an incline. “Having a bed at a 5.5 percent incline helps detox the body twice as well and lower the pressure in the brain,” Pummer says.
Many people don’t think about how much of their conscious performance depends on their time spent unconscious at night, but there’s a lot at stake. “Your best night of sleep is going to start with your morning before,” Khorsandi says. “And your best day is going to start the night before.”
Klaudia Balogh is a health and fitness writer for TOTI Media.