The Power of Sleep, Pt. 1

The cultural myth that more work is better work can sometimes lead us to sacrifice sleep in an effort to accomplish more. However, there is wisdom in the maxim, “early to bed, early to rise.” Imagine receiving a bonus for sleeping - we suspect more than a few readers would be interested in learning how this can be done. First, let’s begin by determining whether you are getting the recommended amount of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the average adult should sleep between seven and nine hours a night. Are you there yet? This article explores the perils of running a deficit in your sleep bank, and how being well-rested can result in bonuses both in the workplace and in your personal life.

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

Who has time for sleep? This is often the question that arises when we are pressed for time. However, if we want to bring our best thinking and energy to any problem we should be asking, who has time to be tired? Just one week of insufficient sleep alters the activity of our genes, which control our responses to stress, immunity, inflammation, and overall physical and mental health. The following is a list of some of the hidden health hazards caused by sleep deprivation.

  1. Higher levels of anxiety: Lack of sleep amplifies the brain’s anticipatory reactions, raising overall anxiety levels. Sleep helps us cope better with stress and anxiety.
  2. Higher levels of depression: Lack of sleep causes a decrease in neurotransmitters which regulate mood. We can improve our mood with sleep because we are better able to manage stress, frustration and anger, leaving us feel brighter and more optimistic.
  3. Impaired cognition: Excessive sleepiness impairs memory, and the ability to think and process information. Your brain is actually preparing for the next day as you sleep because it is integrating information by helping you learn and remember information. In this way, sleep helps improve productivity and efficiency.
  4. Higher risk of hypertension: Sleeping between five and six hours a night increases the risk of having high blood pressure.
  5. Higher risk of heart disease: Our blood pressure drops when we sleep. Not experiencing this nightly drop in blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. Sleep is also involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels and triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens.
  6. Higher risk of diabetes: Lack of sleep triggers our stress response, leading to the release of the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine, which are associated with insulin resistance. Sleep also affects our glucose levels which influence how our body reacts to insulin.
  7. Higher risk of stroke: Lack of sleep negatively affects cardiovascular health, increasing the risk of restricting blood flow to the brain.
  8. Compromised sex life: Quality sleep keeps testosterone levels high, prevents erection problems, and ensures you are not too tired for sex.
  9. Disruption of circadian rhythm (natural time clock): Lack of sleep leads to poor white blood cell health, which weakens our physical stress response. Sleep strengthens our immune system which helps our bodies defend against foreign or harmful substances.
  10. Increased risk of breast cancer: Late night exposure to light is linked to reduced melatonin production, which disrupts estrogen production. Too much estrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer.
  11. Unhealthy cravings: Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). Lack of sleep causes ghrelin levels to increase and leptin to decrease. Good sleep habits are associated with higher weight loss rates, and people who sleep well are more likely to keep the pounds they shed off.[1]

Stay tuned for 'The Power of Sleep, Pt. 2', where we'll be discussing ways in which we can support optimal sleep habits.

[1] Sleep: A Business Case for Bedtime. The Hidden Global Health Issue Impacting Employee Performance. Maxis Global Benefits Network - Whitepaper; http://www.healthcentral.com/sleep-disorders/cf/slideshows/5-health-issues-that-arise-from-sleep-deprivation/hypertension-risk-increases/; http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/howmuch; http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/signs; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/256912.php.

Bena Stock
Bena Stock was called to the Bar in 1992 and practised primarily in the areas of professional negligence and insurance defence for 24 years.