Sleep: Why it is So Important and Tips to Get the Best Night’s Rest

By: Sophia Erickson

If you are anything like me, you know what it is like to snooze your alarm clock several times before actually getting up, swearing that those five extra minutes make you feel a little more rested. Despite this, no matter how many extra minutes you squeeze in, you still feel groggy, irritable and overall just not yourself; this, my friends, is called not getting enough sleep. Whether you were up all night scrolling mindlessly through social media apps or binge watching the new buzzworthy TV series (The Flight Attendant is great, just saying), we must remember that getting ample, quality sleep is vital for good health and allows our bodies and minds to recharge, recover and prepare for the next day.

The Science Behind Sleep 

Our bodies have an internal “body clock” that regulates our sleep cycle and controls when we feel tired or awake. This clock operates on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle (Waterhouse, et al., 2012) and is influenced heavily by environmental cues, such as light. When you first wake up you should feel refreshed and ready to take on the day because morning light stimulates the production of cortisol, a hormone that promotes energy and supports alertness, spikes in the morning. In fact, “cortisol concentrations increase from 50% to 160% in the first 30 minutes after awakening” (Clow, et al., 2004).

As the day goes on, however, cortisol levels lower as adenosine levels rise. Adenosine, an organic compound produced in the brain, is known to inhibit arousal and cause sleepiness and increases every hour that you are awake (Basheer, et al., 2004). Also, did you know that caffeine is considered an adenosine blocker? It attaches itself to adenosine receptors to prevent the sleepiness that occurs as the levels of adenosine in the body increase (Ribeiro and Sebastião, 2010), which is why your mid-day coffee makes you feel more alert. That being said, once natural light disappears in the evening, the body releases melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness and, “night‐state physiological functions, such as sleep/wake blood pressure and metabolism” (Zisapel, 2018). 

Why Sleep is Important

According to a 2016 report published by the CDC, adults aged 18-60 years need 7 or more hours per night, yet 1 in 3 adults are not getting enough sleep. Everyone knows the fatigue, irritability and brain fog that comes from a sleepless night; however, constant sleep deprivation can have more serious consequences. “Lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes” (NHS, 2018).  Now that the effects of poor sleep are clear, here are several more reasons why getting a good night’s sleep is extremely important to your overall physical and mental health:

  1. Recovery 

When you sleep,  your body repairs itself through major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release (Brinkman, et al., 2020), which are all important for recovery after a hard workout or even just a stressful day. 

Your skin also benefits from a good night’s sleep. In fact, a study done in Korea found that sleep deprivation led to skin dehydration, difference in skin texture and decrease in elasticity (Jang, et al., 2020), so if you want to give your skin some TLC, catch some extra zzz’s. 

  1. Immune System 

During sleep, your immune system releases inflammation fighting cytokines that help your body fight inflammation, infection and trauma (Krueger, et al., 2011).  This is why when you are sick, your doctor may simply tell you that the best thing you can do for yourself is sleep, because it is!

  1. Improved Memory and Better Attention 

Studies have shown that quantity and quality of sleep have a profound impact on learning and memory. In fact, a study done by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School found that, “when we are sleep deprived, our focus, attention, and vigilance drift, making it more difficult to receive information. Without adequate sleep and rest, overworked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information” (Sleep, Learning and Memory). If you are a student, remember this next time you are debating pulling an all nighter to study for an exam! The extra sleep may be more beneficial than you think. 

  1. Emotional Stability 

Finally, sleep plays a big role in your mood. Lack of sleep can lead to, “emotional instability, anxiety and confusion, and chronic insomnia increases vulnerability to mood and anxiety disorders” (Motomura & Mishima, 2014). 

Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep

  1. Establish a routine and stick to it, even on weekends. By going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning, your circadian rhythm stays in check.
  2. Avoid using electronics for an hour leading up to your bedtime. The blue light can keep you awake and stimulate your brain function. 
  3. Get regular exercise during the day. This helps your body feel fatigued and ready for bed. Just be careful not to do intense exercise three hours before going to bed because it can arouse the body and cause interrupted sleep .
  4. Avoid caffeine after noon, and go light on alcohol. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 12 hours and disturb your sleep cycle, as well as alcohol. 
  5. Try taking a supplement, such as melatonin or magnesium, which have both been shown to improve sleep quality. 

Remember that prioritizing sleep is a form of self care. Especially in a society that encourages hustle culture, we must not forget to take care of ourselves and get adequate sleep. Remember: showing how little sleep you can operate on is not a “flex.”

Reference List:

A. Clow, L. Thorn, P. Evans & F. Hucklebridge (2004) The Awakening Cortisol Response: Methodological Issues and Significance, Stress, 7:1, 29-37, DOI: 10.1080/10253890410001667205

Basheer, R., Strecker, R. E., Thakkar, M. M., & McCarley, R. W. (2004). Adenosine and sleep-wake regulation. Progress in neurobiology, 73(6), 379–396. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2004.06.004

Brinkman JE, Reddy V, Sharma S. Physiology, Sleep. [Updated 2020 Apr 29]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482512/

CDC. (2016, February 16). 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html. 

Jang, S. I., Lee, M., Han, J., Kim, J., Kim, A. R., An, J. S., Park, J. O., Kim, B. J., & Kim, E. (2020). A study of skin characteristics with long-term sleep restriction in Korean women in their 40s. Skin research and technology : official journal of International Society for Bioengineering and the Skin (ISBS) [and] International Society for Digital Imaging of Skin (ISDIS) [and] International Society for Skin Imaging (ISSI), 26(2), 193–199. https://doi.org/10.1111/srt.12797

Krueger, J. M., Majde, J. A., & Rector, D. M. (2011). Cytokines in immune function and sleep regulation. Handbook of clinical neurology, 98, 229–240. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-52006-7.00015-0

Motomura, Y., & Mishima, K. (2014). Brain and nerve = Shinkei kenkyu no shinpo, 66(1), 15–23.

NHS. (2018, May 30). Why lack of sleep is bad for your health . NHS Choices. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/

Ribeiro, J. A., & Sebastião, A. M. (2010). Caffeine and adenosine. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD, 20 Suppl 1, S3–S15. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-2010-1379

Sleep, Learning, and Memory. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2020, from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

Waterhouse, J., Fukuda, Y., & Morita, T. (2012). Daily rhythms of the sleep-wake cycle. Journal of physiological anthropology, 31(1), 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/1880-6805-31-5

Zisapel N. (2018). New perspectives on the role of melatonin in human sleep, circadian rhythms and their regulation. British journal of pharmacology, 175(16), 3190–3199. https://doi.org/10.1111/bph.14116

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