How did you sleep last night?
It’s a simple enough question and yet the answer may have a profound impact on your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Sleep accounts for an astonishing one-third of our lives and our late-night habits have been the subject of countless studies, seminars, books and podcasts. The Canadian Sleep Society, a national research organization committed to improving sleep for all Canadians, notes that the sleep patterns of an average adult generally range from about six to nine hours. But how many of us choose to forgo a solid night’s sleep in order to check work emails, scroll through Instagram or binge-watch just one more episode of our favourite Netflix show?
Investing in a good night’s sleep isn’t just about improving your mood and avoiding those dark under-eye circles, it might be the single most important thing you can do to radically transform your life for the better. Here are five proven benefits of sleep that should help convince you to give up your late-night screen time in favour of an extra hour of shut-eye.
- Improve Physical and Mental Wellbeing
In his 2017 book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, neuroscientist Matthew Walker explores the importance of sleep and the startling impact it has on our ability to function as happy, healthy humans. Forget beauty rest, sleep is vital when it comes to regulating your mood and reducing stress levels. “Sleep recalibrates our emotion brain circuits, allowing us to navigate next day social and psychological challenges with cool-headed composure,” Walker explains. And while a bad night’s sleep may lead to crankiness and irritability, sustained sleep deprivation has also been linked to a wide range of serious physical and mental health conditions ranging from anxiety to Alzheimers. Those who suffer from insomnia and other chronic sleep disorders are at risk of stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes…the list goes on and on. Sleep is essential for building and maintaining a healthy immune system to help protect your body against everything from the common cold to cancer.
- Regulate Healthy Bodyweight
Not only does sleep radically improve your body’s immune system, it also helps to boost your metabolism and control appetite. “Sleep reforms the body’s metabolic state by fine-tuning the balance of insulin and circulating glucose,” notes Walker. “Sleep further regulates our appetite, helping control body weight through healthy food selection rather than rash impulsivity.” And while the occasional indulgence is fine in moderation, mindful eating is made easier when you’re getting a good night’s sleep.
- Boost Cognitive Function
Long nights and early mornings might seem like the key to productivity, but sleep enriches our cognitive abilities on several levels, enhancing our capacity to absorb and retain information, make logical decisions and think clearly. “Sleep not only helps our body repair and restore from the day it's had, it also helps the brain and mind rest and prepare for the day ahead,” explains sleep consultant and founder of The Good Night Sleep Site, Alanna McGinn. “Research shows that our brain’s drainage system – the glymphatic system – flushes and toxins and files long-term memories primarily throughout the night.”
Loss of sleep – even just after one night – can lead to a range of immediate negative consequences the next day, including reduced alertness, clumsiness, lack of creativity, memory loss, inability to concentrate and impaired brain function. Fatigue is a leading cause of car accidents in North America, and one scientific study found that moderate sleep deprivation is equivalent to or worse than alcohol intoxication when it comes to impacting our reaction time and mental alertness.
- Healthier Lifestyle Choices
The timing of when we sleep and when we wake is largely governed by our internal circadian clocks. And while biology dictates when we sleep, our surroundings play a big part in how we sleep. Poor bedtime habits can be incredibly disruptive to sleep patterns in otherwise healthy individuals. Your evening routine is key when it comes to setting yourself up for a successful night of slumber and, for many of us, sleep and self-care go hand in hand. Prioritizing sleep will prompt you to abandon late-night snacking and prolonged screen time in favour more relaxing, rejuvenating activities. “Your bedroom should be for sleep and sleep only,” McGinn says. “It’s important to create a sleep sanctuary and for you to be comfortable in your sleep environment.”
- Increased Intimacy
Of course, sleep isn’t the only thing that happens in the bedroom. And it should come as no surprise that your performance in bed has a lot to do with the amount of time you spend in bed. Not only does low energy cause stress and tension among couples, sleep deprivation can result in lower testosterone levels and has proven to have a negative impact on libido for both men and women. A 2015 study in the Journal of Medicine shows that, for women, sleep duration was directly related to next-day sexual desire. In fact, even just a one-hour increase in the amount of sleep corresponded to a 14% increase in your odds of engaging in sexual activity with a partner. When it comes to sexual desire and performance, setting the scene for intimacy starts with a good amount of shut-eye.
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