Rannoch Donald is a firm believer in the benefits of sleep.
Fifty-nine percent of Americans get seven or more hours of sleep at night, while 40% get less than seven hours. Those figures are largely unchanged from Gallup polls in the 1990s and 2000s, but Americans, on average, slept much more in the 1940s. Americans currently average 6.8 hours of sleep at night, down more than an hour from 1942. According to the CDC, 30% of the U.S. workforce is sleep-deprived.
It is tempting to get by on less sleep, fuel up on caffeine energy drinks and push forward with our lives. Unfortunately when we are sleep deprived we can think we are doing a better job at things than we are. It is not until we are well rested that we notice how different things feel.
Remember sleep deprivation was once used as a torture technique.
So what are the benefits of sleep in a nutshell?
If you wouldn’t drive under the influence, you shouldn’t drive when drowsy. Studies show that “just four hours of sleep loss will produce as much impairment as a six-pack.”
But even with less sleep loss, day-to-day life can be equally impaired. Nate Green tells the story of how lack of sleep was affecting his life: “My writing was suffering, my workouts were lackluster, and my libido – my girlfriend told me – resembled that of a ‘sad old man.'” Changing his sleep habits changed everything.
2. Learning & memory
Skip cramming for a test, and get some shut eye instead. Why? Becuase sleep improves your ability to digest and access information. Studying, reading and memorizing will get the information in front of you. But if you actually want to understand that information, go to bed. Even a short nap today helps with that test tomorrow.
3. Solve problems by sleeping on them
“I’ll sleep on it.” There’s a reason why you feel like you will make a better decision in the morning—because you probably will.
4. Repair your muscles and grow stronger while you are at it
During sleep, your muscles relax, the blood supply to them increases and tissue growth and repair occurs. The more you work out — especially if you are a weekend warrior or exercising at odd times — the more sleep can help you recover.
5. You look good when you sleep
As Walt Whitman so eloquently put it “I swear they are all beautiful / Every one that sleeps is beautiful”. Timothy Krause, the photographer who took the picture above did a series of sleeping New Yorkers to demonstrate just that bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers.
6. Reduce inflammation
Your body’s inflammatory response is triggered when exposed to trauma, toxins, cell-damaging free radicals, or daily stress. Sleep is a great opportunity to process these exposures and return us to a less inflamed state.
7. Cortisol control
Cortisol is what plays a part in our fight or flight response—keeping us alert, productive and alive. However, without the necessity of daily hunting, fighting, and physical labor to survive, cortisol is not needed to keep us on edge. Yet in times of stress, it performs that same function. A good night’s restores cortisol levels to their natural level, particularly as we age. Tip: Stop watching TV before falling to sleep, read a book or magazine instead. The bright lights and noise of a TV trigger adrenaline and cortisol release.
8. Weight loss and maintenance
Beyond elevated cortisol levels that push your body to store fat, sleep deprived individuals tend to crave high-fat, readily accessible meals that can add pounds. Another tip: Eat a small protein and fat-rich meal before bed. Nate Green suggests: “Most guys eat a big dinner but neglect to have a before-bed snack, waking up in the middle of the night with a grumbling stomach. Not too conducive for high-quality sleep. I’ve been eating a couple hard-boiled eggs or a cup of cottage cheese with a handful of pecans, walnuts, and Brazilian nuts before bed for a few months now, and I’ve noticed the feeling of satiety lets me fall asleep faster.”
9. Lower risk of depression
According to an article in the NY Times, even relatively minor sleep disturbances can be tied to depression. If you believe you are suffering from depression, it’s always wise to consult a physician. But looking at your sleep habits can help with overall wellness.
10. It’s about consistency
You can’t really “catch up” on sleep. You know the excuses–you’re procrastinating, you’ll get back to your tasks soon enough, when the weather gets better, that new work project is finished and you finally catch up on your sleep. Better off to start tonight.
Progress is a series of small steps. Small steps, that in time, cover a great distance. We get stronger incrementally, lose weight gradually, regain health, movement and wellness one rep, one workout, one day at a time. So a little bump on the road to fitness is just that, you stalled, it happens, that’s life. The journey continues. Buckle up.
We have heard it before but try to establish a regular sleeping pattern. Choose your own time slot, just keep it regular.
See also 7 tips for perfect sleep from Elevating Fitness.
More from the series by photographer Timothy Krause: