As we begin the New Year, many of us re-focus on our health. We vow to lose weight, to hit the gym, to eat more nutritiously, and to stress less. Yet one of the simplest ways to take care of our health, and even help shed those holiday pounds, is to sleep well. The average adult requires seven to nine hours of sleep per night, yet most Americans do not sleep a full seven hours a night. What are we missing out on by staying up that extra hour or waking up an hour or two earlier? The health benefits of sleep are well- known, far-reaching and easy to achieve. Go ahead; make 2014 the year you sleep well.
1.) Wake up happier. It is not surprising that sleep effects mood. Most of us feel cranky and irritable after a poor night’s sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with depression, anxiety, and mental distress.
2.) Eat fewer calories. Several studies have linked sleeping less than six hours per night with weight gain and obesity. A 2012 study from the Mayo Clinic found that sleep deprived participants consumed an extra 549 calories per day compared to than well-rested counterparts. By eating the caloric equivalent of an extra Big Mac per day, long-term sleep deprivation could most certainly lead to weight gain. Studies have found that people who sleep for eight hours per night have the lowest BMI’s (body mass indexes, a measurement of body fat calculated by height and weight.)
3.) Look your Best. It’s called Beauty Sleep for a reason. You actually look better when well rested. A 2010 British Medical Journal Study found that photographs of individuals were rated healthier, more attractive and less tired when they were well rested compared to the same individual when sleep deprived. Sleep can also keep you looking younger according to the results of a recent study. After just one week of sleeping for five hours or tossing and turning and achieving poor quality sleep participants had increased signs of signs of facial aging, including wrinkles and uneven skin tone.
4.) Sharpen Your Memory. Turns out your parents were right when they told you to get a good night’s rest before a test. Recent studies have shown that the best way to remember information is to sleep on it. Sleep is time for your brain to reviews the events of the day and to determine which memories to keep and which to toss away. Non-REM sleep is also when your brain prepares to be sharp and to be able to learn new information the next day.
5.) Exercise like an Athlete. Increasing nightly sleep by just one hour can lead to increased performance. A 2011 study increased the sleep Stanford University’s basketball team by two hours per night and the players increased their speed, their free throws, their reflexes and even reported feeling happier. Many professional athletes value their sleep, knowing that sleep improves muscle memory and energy levels come morning.
6.) Boost Your Immunity. As cold and flu season is now upon us,when most of us feel hit by a virus we often try to stay in bed and naturally sleep it off. And for a good reason! Adequate sleep has been linked to improved immunity. The immune system is complex and thus lack of sleep alone will not cause you to catch a viral illness. But sleep deprivation can weaken the function of your immune system, making you more susceptible to becoming sick after exposure to a virus or taking longer to feel well again.
7.) Make better decisions. Sleep deprivation is a well-known precursor to many dangerous accidents. From drowsy drivers to medical errors to the Exon Valdez oil spill the effects of drowsiness are large for society. Lack of sleep affects our ability to concentrate, and perform higher-level cognitive functions, such as logical reasoning or complex thinking. We think faster and make better decisions after a good night’s sleep.
8.) Live Longer. Sleep deprivation is associated with obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, stokes, and depression. Studies have also shown that people who chronically suffer from sleep deprivation with less than 5 hours per night also have an increased mortality risk from all causes by 15%. Sleep is essential to the quality and number of our days.