- Written by Joel LeBlanc
Are you sleeping well right now? If not, a lack of sleep may be taking a toll on the health of your body and your mind. It was Aristotle in 350 B.C. who first suggested that sleep may play a role in the renewal of health and strength of the physical body, and today modern scientists have continued to assert and support this theory.
The effects of sleep on mood and behavior
It's well known that losing sleep can make a person cranky, irritable, fatigued, and sometimes blue. In recent years, the medical community has begun to pay much more attention to the role that long-term sleep disturbance plays in major mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder and depression. During sleep, your body secretes specific hormones, such as melatonin, which not only control sleep cycles, but also have a significant role in regulating mood. An article published in the scientific journal Psychiatra Polska in 2009 suggests that sleep disturbance can be both a symptom and a cause of depression. When you are feeling down, make sure you are getting enough sleep, as catching up on some needed REM can make the world of difference to your mood.
Sleep and cognitive function
Good sleep helps benefit learning and memory. Through a process called memory consolidation, information is committed to long-term memory in the brain. In an article published in The Neuroscientist in 2006, researchers from the University of Lübeck in Germany state that adequate sleep helps to optimize the process of memory consolidation. Sleep achieves this by the neurotransmitters and hormones released during different stages of sleep, which in turn affect the activity of neurons and the hippocampus. So if you are studying, teaching, or working in a job that requires you to learn and retain a high number of facts and figures, then make sure you are sleeping well each night.
Sleep and weight management
Several studies have demonstrated that poor sleep is directly related to an increased risk of weight gain and obesity in both adults and children. During sleep, the brain secretes significant amounts of human growth hormone (HGH) – a hormone that improves metabolism of fatty tissues, stimulates growth of muscles throughout the body, and supports bone density. As there is a tendency to sleep less as we grow older, low levels of HGH have also been linked with poor bone density, increased weight gain, and diminished muscle mass in aging populations. Sleep is of vital importance for not only preventing obesity, but also reducing the negative health effects of aging.
Sleep and mortality
Healthy balanced sleep results in better physical health on a number of levels. Your immune system functions better, circulation improves around the body, inflammation reduces, and metabolism speeds up. According to a meta-analysis study published in the scientific journal Sleep in 2010, both too little and too much sleep may increase the risk of death from all causes. Researchers from Warwick Medical School in the UK pooled together results from over sixteen studies, looking at over 1.3 million individuals. Excess and insufficient sleep were both found to result in increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, respiratory disorders, obesity, and overall mortality. These results show that insomnia is not the only sleep problem to be concerned about, and that having the right balance of sleep each night is important to ensure a long, healthy life.
How to improve sleep
Stanford University states on their website several useful tips for improving sleep quality, including abstaining from daytime naps, developing rituals and routines around going to sleep, staying away from caffeine and nicotine 4-6 hours before bed, and making sure your bed is used only for sleeping (and sex) – never for reading, working, or watching TV.
Some lifestyle changes may also have a positive effect on your sleep patterns. Magnesium, calcium, B-vitamins, and some herbal teas may improve sleep quantity and quality. According to a study published in The Journal of Nursing Research in 2010, people suffering from insomnia and poor mood balance benefit from practicing yoga. Elderly patients who took part in a 6-month regime of yoga exercises experienced significant improvements in sleep quality, sleep maintenance, and depressive symptoms.
If you suffer from chronic poor sleep, check with your health care professional for support and advice.