Wellness Spotlight: The Benefits of Sleep

Getting more sleep may not be on your New Year’s resolution list, but it will definitely help you accomplish those goals. Just think of all the things that go wrong when we don’t get enough sleep—irritability sets in, emotions rise, creativity plateaus, caffeine intake increases and a slight fog sets in that makes it harder to retain and recall information or learn new things. Most of these issues can be solved by the right amount of sleep.

It Does a Body Good

Getting a good night’s rest isn’t just important, it’s vital. Scientists and doctors have hypothesized that this seemingly simple act allows our bodies to recover (muscle tissue is rebuilt and restored), consolidate information, store memories and, where children are concerned, helps them grow.

Have you ever noticed when your kids go through a growth spurt, they seem to sleep more? That’s because the pituitary gland secretes a protein hormone called the growth hormone, which, even though released throughout the day, is more intensely released at the onset of deep sleep.

Brain Game

Mental capacity is deeply affected by lack of sleep. In 2013 at the University of Colorado Boulder, Salome Kurth, a postdoctoral researcher, and Monique LeBourgeois, assistant professor of integrative physiology, found that connections between the left and right hemispheres of young children’s brains strengthen while they sleep, which may help brain functions mature.

“Interestingly, during a night of sleep, connections weakened within hemispheres but strengthened between hemispheres,” Kurth says. “There are strong indications that sleep and brain maturation are closely related, but at this time, it is not known how sleep leads to changes in brain structure.”

Sleep allows the brain to reorganize, process and archive information, which helps us find solutions to problems and recall not only newly learned information, but also memories. Brain waves become much slower as we dive into a deeper sleep and, during our deepest sleep, our brain almost exclusively produces delta waves. These delta waves, discovered by W. Grey Walter in the early 1900s, are what make sleep restorative.

In a 2004 study published in Current Biology, Edwin M. Robertsona, Alvaro Pascual-Leonea and Daniel Z. Pressa found that skills taught to individuals only had “offline improvement” in those who had slept between their sessions (which happened every 12 hours). Those who were asked to recall information at 8 p.m., learned at 8 a.m., did not have the same result as those who were given information at 8 p.m. and had to recall it the next morning.

“Those who learned the task explicitly could mentally rehearse some or all of the known sequence during the day. Despite this opportunity, these participants only showed skill improvements following sleep,” the study states. “When an individual is aware of having learned a new skill, the development of further skill without practice is dependent upon sleep.”

Disease Diversion

Ever feel better after a good night’s rest? Well, it’s not your imagination. Sleep has a substantial impact on our immune system. In fact, ongoing sleep deficiency has been associated with everything from an increased risk of heart and kidney disease, as well as diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension and stroke.

In 2012, a study published in the journal SLEEP conducted by researchers in the Netherlands and United Kingdom showed that when even healthy people are deprived of sleep, the body—specifically the granulocytes, which are white blood cells containing several proteins that help the immune system fight off viruses and bacteria—reacts as it would to physical stress.

When we are stressed, we do not react to situations the same way we would with a sound mind and body. The same is true with our immune system. When we don’t get enough sleep, our immune system is unable to function at its highest level. In the short term, individuals are left vulnerable to infections and, long term, lack of sleep suppresses immune function and ultimately impairs it.

Rest to Recover

Some decent shut-eye helps people recover from trauma, allowing them to process what they have suffered, weakening damaging emotions (such as fear) connected to the memory and contextualizing and storing the information.

In the December 2016 issue of SLEEP, a study conducted by a team from the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland was published on the effects of sleep after trauma. In this study, 65 healthy women were exposed to a laboratory trauma film and split into two groups. One group went immediately to sleep after the film, and the other remained awake. The results showed that the sleep group experienced fewer and less distressing intrusive trauma memories compared to the wake group.

“Our results reveal that people who slept after the film had fewer and less distressing recurring emotional memories than those who were awake,” Birgit Kleim from the Department of Experimental Psychopathology and Psychotherapy at the University of Zurich explains. “This supports the assumption that sleep may have a protective effect in the aftermath of traumatic experiences.”

Steady Steering

More than a few of us push ourselves a little more than we should when it comes to long road trips. When the yawns come, we grab a caffeine boost, turn the music up and munch on something to stay stimulated, but too often our eyelids get heavier and heavier. Whether this hits on a road trip, on the way to work a nightshift or while headed out for an early morning, drowsy driving is dangerous.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there have been more than 7,000 deaths in drowsy-driving-related crashes over the last decade and an estimated average of 83,000 crashes each year, between 2005 and 2009, related to drowsy driving. That’s a big price to pay for not enough sleep.

Worry Away

New research is finding that when therapy is first focused on insomnia and solving sleep disorders, treatment of depression is twice as successful. The connection between clinical depression and sleep disturbance is not a new one, but it is important to our mental health. While insomnia alone does not cause depression, lack of sleep worsens it. The role it plays is a complicated one that affects energy levels, motivation and emotions.

Bit by bit, lack of sleep can slowly erode our mental health, often without us even noticing an irritable mood has become emptiness or sadness. According to the Sleep Foundation, people with insomnia are 10 times as likely to have clinical depression and 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety. This is a result of the stress placed on your body when it’s not able to rest. When your body is not able to release stress and recover during the night, coping issues are inevitable while you’re awake.

ZZZs to Please

When most people consider losing weight, they immediately think exercise, and when thinking about gaining weight, sleeping too much might come to mind. But it’s not entirely true. Sleep is vital to regulate appetite and restore the energy our bodies need to burn calories while exercising. A good night’s rest actually helps individuals control and maintain a healthy weight.

A study conducted by a team at Stanford University with 1,024 participants found that in those sleeping less than eight hours, the increased body mass index (BMI) was proportional to decreased sleep. Participants with short sleep had reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin (two key opposing hormones in appetite regulation), which both are likely to lead to an increase appetite.

Also, during the night, we lose water through perspiration and breathing out humid air. Step on the scale when you wake up—if you’re getting a good seven or eight hours of sleep, you might find that you weigh even less than you did when you went to bed.

Our bodies undergo all kinds of activities while we’re sleeping. Though we may not have the same cognitive abilities while asleep, our bodies are anything but passive—they’re working in a whole set of different ways, allowing our body temperature to drop, blood pressure to lower and heart rate to decrease, conserving energy, repairing and maintaining muscles and bones by the facilitation of amino acids. Next time something is off, examine your sleeping habits, because the way you feel while you’re awake has a lot to do with what’s going on when you’re not.

Tips for Buying a Mattress

A good mattress is important for getting a good night’s rest—not necessarily something you want to go cheap on. Think about it this way, the way Gary Javo, Owner of Sit & Sleep Bluffton sees it: “You’re in your bed eight hours a night and it can directly affect the way you feel throughout the day. If you get a good night’s sleep, it will completely change your day.” Sounds like a pretty good reason to pay attention when you’re shopping for your pillowtop, right?

1. Go To A Reputable Store

Don’t just settle for a department store with cheap prices; head to a mattress store where specialists are well-versed in the item at hand—mattresses. Other stores may be more concerned about the furniture and bedding you buy, but specialized mattress stores can assist you in determining everything from the right type of mattress for your sleeping habits, to the selection of the right brand to meet your objectives.

“Mattresses can get complicated. It seems like a simple thing but it really isn’t simple,” Javo explains. “You need to go to a sleep shop where people are specialized and trained. This is what they do and the only thing they do. Take advantage of that.”

2. Know What You Need (Or What You’re Missing)

“Come in with a clear understanding of what you need, or if you don’t know that, then what you don’t have now.”

Talk with your spouse and find out just what it is that you require—does your back hurt? Is your husband waking you up when he moves? Bring that information to the store and let an expert guide you to something that will suit.

3. Get A Mattress Protector

Did you know that one of the first things to void a mattress warranty is a stain? Avoid this headache and pick up special fitted sheets with waterproof backing. The amazing warranty won’t do you any good if it’s immediately voided.

If you’re not sleeping through the night, there’s a big chance it’s the result of a mattress that needs to be replaced. “With a bad mattress, you can start to develop hip and joint pain, it creates pressure points and, if you’re not supported properly, you can have poor circulation in your extremities. It can promote spine misalignment, if there’s a sag to the mattress.” Don’t let a bad mattress be the reason you’re not sleeping well!