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Why you shouldn’t sacrifice sleep when life gets hectic

By Kandy Childress • Dec 5, 2019 at 2:30 PM

The busyness of life can have the same negative effect on your health as a mythical siren luring you to navigate your ship straight into a treacherous wall of jagged rocks. Coming out unscathed is highly unlikely. So why is sleep the first thing sacrificed when the demands of life stack up?

Simply put, many believe sleep is highly overrated. Well, is it? You decide after learning more from the experts.

A recent survey of close to a half-million Americans found that a third of us don’t get enough sleep. About 65% get a “healthy” amount of sleep, or between seven to eight hours per night, while 35% get less than seven hours. The percentage of people sleeping seven hours per night varies considerably from state to state, ranging from a low of 56% in Hawaii to a high of 72% in South Dakota. Tennessee and Virginia both fell on the low end, reporting 62.9 and 64% respectively.

According to Dr. Debra Rose Wilson, Rachel Nall, and the Healthline editorial team in an article entitled “How Does Seven to Eight Hours of Sleep Affect Your Body?,” sleep is an important function for many reasons. When you sleep, your brain signals your body to release hormones and compounds that help decrease risk for health conditions, manage your hunger levels, maintain your immune system, and retain memory.

If mitigating health risks is important to you, then know this: There is a recommended amount of “healthy” sleep per night (seven to eight hours), and deviating from this range on either side can cause negative consequences. Researchers in the United Kingdom and Italy analyzed data from 16 separate studies conducted over 25 years, covering more than 1.3 million people and more than 100,000 deaths. Those who generally slept for less than six hours a night were 12% more likely to experience an early death. People who slept more than eight to nine hours per night had an even higher risk — 30%.

If you are interested in weight loss, it’s important to know that sleep helps manage your appetite. Poor sleep habits can increase the body’s energy needs. At night, movement and need for calories is significantly reduced. When you are sleep deprived, your brain releases chemicals to signal hunger, which can lead to eating more, exercising less, and gaining weight.

Boosting your immune system is another benefit of getting the right amount of sleep. According to Wilson and team, when you sleep, your immune system releases compounds called cytokines. Some cytokines have a protective effect on your immune system by helping to fight inflammation and infection. Without enough sleep, you might not have enough cytokines to keep from getting sick.

If having a good memory is important to you, then getting the “healthy” amount of sleep is essential. Research shows that sleeping after learning can help with memory retention. It also reduces interference from external events. People who are sleep deprived have a harder time receiving information due to the brain’s overworked neurons, may interpret events differently, tend to have impaired judgement, and lose their ability to access previous information, notes Wilson.

If you are convinced that sleep isn’t overrated and want to build good sleep habits, try these tips:

Schedule your sleep: Make an effort to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day of the week, including weekends. Doing this establishes a regular sleep-wake cycle.

Avoid stimulants: Caffeine, chocolate, and nicotine can keep you awake past your bedtime. Stay away from these at least four hours before sleep.

Exercise regularly: Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep faster at night. Exercise promotes deeper, more restful sleep.

Relieve daily stress: Try adopting stress-relieving techniques, such as a bedtime yoga routine and meditation.

Use technology to track sleep patterns: Make use of the many free apps available to track your sleep cycles, so you can learn how to increase hours of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Kandy Childress can be reached via email at kandy.childress@gmail.com.

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