In February of this year the National Sleep Foundation issued a new summary for the amount of sleep recommended for different age groups. According to their expertise they recommend no one should get less than 7 hours of sleep, however the younger the an individual is, the more sleep they should get. According to Charles Czeisler, Chairman of the board of the NSF, “This is the first time that any professional organization has developed age-specific recommended sleep durations based on a rigorous, systematic review of the world scientific literature relating sleep duration to health, performance and safety” (NSF). So why is the amount of sleep we get important enough to have guidelines set to advise us and potentially change our routines?
The reason behind us needing to be aware of it is because sleep or lack of it can seriously impact a person’s health and wellbeing. Sleep is extremely beneficial when an individual gets the right amount. This may be due to the fact that “Major restorative functions in the body such as tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis occur almost exclusively during sleep” (Rogers). Sleep helps maintain these vital functions that allow the body to recover properly from aspects of everyday life. It has many benefits that help an individual, some of the most important being reduced risk of health problems, healthier weight, sharper attention and much more.
One of the most important benefits of getting the right amount of sleep is that it reduces the risk of certain diseases and illnesses. When an individual gets less than the recommended amount of sleep they are shown to have higher levels of inflammatory proteins than individuals who get the correct amount. Inflammation is commonly associated with heart disease, arthritis, stroke, diabetes, and other serious health issues. So getting the right amount of sleep can curb inflammation and reduce the risk of these diseases linked to it. On the other hand, sleep deprivation can actually have negative effects. One study in 2010 “found that C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night” (Sparacino). While another study “simulated the effects of the disturbed sleep patterns of shift workers on 10 young healthy adults. After a mere four days, three of them had blood glucose levels that qualified as pre-diabetic” (Griffin). These both show that sleep gives the body time to heal and lack of that after years can have a serious impact on health. That is why most people with the condition “Insomnia” usually have another health issue.
Not only does it help with serious illnesses, but also helps with something as simple as a cold. Getting enough sleep has been shown to strengthen an individual’s immunity. According to WebMD “Researchers tracked over 150 people and monitored their sleep habits for two weeks. Then they exposed them to a cold virus. People who got seven hours of sleep a night or less were almost three times as likely to get sick as the people who got at least eight hours of sleep a night” (WebMD). This is because if the body does not have the time to heal overnight, it weakens the immune system which makes it more likely for someone to catch a virus if they are exposed to it.
Another benefit of sleep is that it helps maintain a healthier weight. According to Dr. Rapoport “Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same sectors of the brain. When you are sleepy, certain hormones go up in your blood, and those same hormones drive appetite” (Sparacino) The levels of a hormone called leptin, which is what makes an individual feel full, is what drops. That is why when people don’t get enough sleep it stimulates hunger, mostly for high-fat, high-carb foods and lack self-control is a result of being overtired. The claim that people that sleep less have a higher risk of being obese has been proven through multiple studies such as “one study that followed 500 people for 13 years found that people who regularly slept less than seven hours a night were 7.5 times more likely to be overweight — even after controlling for physical activity, family history, and demographic factors.” (Loria) So this shows that whether you’re on a diet or are just trying to be healthy, getting the recommended amount of sleep is an important aspect of not gaining weight.
The last important benefit is that it sharpens an individual’s attention. Without that sharp attention due to lack of sleep people are more prone to making mistakes, which can sometimes be dangerous. Research has found “Drowsy driving is responsible for 100,000 crashes and 1,500 deaths every year, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Almost 20% of serious injuries in crashes happen when there’s a sleepy driver involved” (Loria). Some studies similar to this have even shown that driving sleep deprived is almost as harmful as drinking drunk. Not only is sleep loss an hazard on the roads, but it can also be a danger in certain workplaces. Many accidents and injuries occur on jobs when there sleep deprivation is a factor. In fact some of the biggest disasters in history such as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown or the Exxon Valdez oil spill were a result of this problem. Due to issues like this many companies have put in place regulations on how many hours workers can work to allow them to get more sleep.
So overall, what is the importance of sleep? Well, according to many studies getting a healthy amount of sleep or having a lack of sleep overtime can actually have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing. It can effect important aspects of life such as risk of health problems, weight, and sharpness of attention. However, there are many more positives of getting the correct amount of sleep. If the benefits alone don’t change your mind, maybe the consequences of not getting the correct amount of sleep will encourage you to get those important extra hours in. Sleep is such an easy way to improve many aspects of a person’s life, so if you have the opportunity, making sure you get the recommended amount of sleep is one of the best things you can do.