The Health Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep
Why Rest Remains the Best Cure in the Book
Whoever coined the old Irish proverb “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book” knew what they were talking about. Researchers continue to find evidence of the health benefits of each.
But with no disrespect for the salutary effects of chuckling at the latest cat video, sleep is probably the more effective therapy for what ails you in body, mind and even spirit.
Wellness for the Body
You may be most familiar with the physical benefits of sleep. Your body uses that seven or eight hours of downtime to do a lot of critical maintenance. For one thing, the hormones that your body releases during the different stages of sleep build and repair muscle and tissue. There’s even evidence that healing on the cellular level occurs for some functions. A study of more than 10,000 subjects with chronic pain showed that better rest increased a person’s threshold for dealing with that pain.
What may be even more important is that good rest helps your body fend off illness. A Loyola University of Chicago study found that people who got less than seven hours of sleep were much more likely to catch a cold than those who managed at least eight hours. The researchers attributed the greater robustness of the better-rested to the white blood cells released by the immune system as we sleep.
Adequate sleep also fosters good eating habits. Sleep triggers the hormones that regulate hunger and fullness, and dozens of studies confirm the relationship between a greater risk for obesity and sleep deprivation. All the more reason to avoid eating too close to bedtime. You also want to make sure you’re not eating or drinking anything that could cause snoring or other sleep-disrupting habits.
Wellness for the Mind
Sleep is critical to our ability to form and keep memories. What we see and learn when we are awake gets consolidated while we’re asleep in a way that both strengthens the new memory and integrates it with what we already know.
Most of our dreaming happens during the deepest stage of sleep, also known as the rapid eye movement (REM) stage; which takes, on average, 90 minutes to reach. Ever feel fuzzy-headed when you’re tired and trying to make a decision? It could be because you’re not cycling through enough REM stages each night.
In 2010, researchers at Harvard Medical School documented a connection between dreaming and improved memory when they found that subjects performed learning tasks better after taking a nap. The investigators attributed the better performance both to the way rest reactivates the mind and the way dreams help us reorganize what we have been taught. The double dose of sleep aid helped the subjects do better on the next test.
Wellness for the Spirit
Look no further than the way a toddler’s disposition changes from cranky to cheerful after getting some sleep for evidence of how sleep improves mood and energy.
Stress, anger, and anxiety all diminish with a good night’s sleep. But often we have a hard time getting to sleep precisely because of the emotional pressures we feel—creating a vicious cycle that can leave us feeling constantly tired and upset.
Changes to your environment and bedtime habits can help you escape that vicious cycle. Find a physical or intellectual activity that helps you wind down. Make sure your sleep area is conducive to a good night’s rest.
Healthy sleep begins with a better understanding of the role it plays in every aspect of our well-being. Think of it not as an interruption of your day but as the third of it during which you prepare yourself to be the best you inside and out. A good night’s sleep means that the challenges and problems of life will be easier to tackle and overcome.
If you’re still having breathing or snoring issues that are affecting your sleep despite your best efforts, consider seeking the advice of a medical expert in sleep and sinus disorders. Contact our Metairie or Chalmette offices to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Ear, Nose and Throat doctors. The sooner your body is fully free to perform its recuperative overnight labors, the better.
Image by Antonio Guillem/123RF.