While science hasn’t been able to nail down the exact reason why we sleep, it has been able to identify several key health outcomes that are associated with getting a good night sleep. Sleep is often the overlooked element in many people's health and wellness planning and is just as important as diet or exercise for several key health outcomes.
Starting with your brain, sleep is critical to your ability to learn and remember information. This relationship is complex and exactly how and why sleep is connected to brain function isn’t entirely clear, but it is clear that you are sharper and think quicker when you are well rested. Research suggests that activities such as memory consolidation happen during sleep, one of the key elements in moving information from your short-term to long-term memory.
Aside from the ability to synthesize and recall learned information, sleep plays a major role in how we use that information to make decisions. Without adequate sleep and rest our over-worked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly and we lose our ability to access previously learned information. Our ability to make sound decisions based on good information is compromised which leads to poorer judgment.
We intuitively know from experience that our brain works better when well rested although we may not be aware of how much better. There is a host of poor health outcomes that are associated with poor sleep. Regular lack of sleep is very strongly correlated with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and a shortened life expectancy and this list goes on.
Your mental and emotional health is also strongly connected to your sleep patterns. Anxiety, depression, and stress are all exaggerated by a lack of sleep. Your immune system relies on regular and proper rest to function at its highest capacity. The Institute of Medicine estimates that over 1 million injuries and between 50 000 and 100 000 deaths a year a closely tied to fatigue a lack of sleep. Some estimates put as high as 1 in 3 drivers momentarily falling asleep while driving every year in the United States! Those same estimates put approximately 1 million crashes every year due to drowsy driving. Think of that next time you pay your insurance.
Sleep needs to stop being thought of as an inconvenience, and start being thought of as an investment. Your body, mind, and soul will be better for getting proper rest. You will be safer, smarter, more efficient and more pleasant. Your work will improve, your relationships will improve, and your body will improve both in function and appearance. Sleep is like an investment account for your body. You have to make regular deposits and be consistent for it to be effective, but if you are disciplined with it the dividends can be far greater than the initial investments made.