The Importance of Sleep
Sleep Awareness Week (March 14-20) draws attention to the importance of sleep as a vital component to a healthy lifestyle. Simply put, we are encouraged not to underestimate the power of sleep!
While you have no doubt heard a lot over the years about the importance of a good diet and regular exercise, the importance of sleep has received less attention. But during Sleep Awareness Week, the Sleep Health Foundation of Australia is positioning sleep as the third pillar in achieving maximum individual mental health and overall wellness.
When you break it down it makes sense because while we are sleeping the body does a lot of important work like:
• The brain sorts and processes the days information creating long term memories and consolidates any information it’s picked up during the day and files it away. Lack of sleep leads to decreased decision-making ability, poorer reaction times and greater irritability.
• Hormones flood the body during sleep to help the body grow and repair itself. Without enough sleep the body craves things like sugar, fat and other high-GI foods which can lead to increased weight.
• Consistently sleeping well is considered a protective factor against heart disease, diabetes, stroke – as our sympathetic nervous system – which controls the fight or flight response – gets a chance to relax.
• The immune system releases a type of small proteins called cytokines which help the body fight inflammation, infection and trauma. So without enough sleep, the immune system is unlikely to function at its best.
Simply put if individuals don’t get enough sleep they can't hold attention, their memory becomes poorer, reactions are slowed and their mood fluctuates more than normal. And if this happens on a regular basis our physical and mental health may be at risk.
The good news is that developing good sleep habits will improve sleep. A regular bedtime and waking time, avoiding stimulants like cigarettes, chocolate and caffeine before going to bed, exercising during the day, eating well and enjoying a quiet, dark comfortable bedroom are all essential habits for good quality sleep.