Your relationship with sleep used to be casual and forgiving. You were thrilled when you got it, philosophical when you didn’t. Do any of these statements ring a bell?
· Once finals are over, I can snooze till the cows come home.
· Soon, they’ll be able to sleep through the night — and so will I.
· Things will get back to normal as soon as I settle into the new job/living space/time zone.
Clearly, projecting long-term thinking and a healthy dose of perspective is helpful. After all, you’ve managed the highs and lows of challenging sleep situations up to this point and come out the other side — eventually.
The thing is, every time you face off with even occasional sleeplessness, the struggle takes its collective toll. Which raises a difficult but pivotal question: At what point does your relationship go from casual to complicated?
Perhaps it’s time to start prioritizing a good night’s sleep — schedule it in, negotiate around it, foster an intimate relationship with it — because seemingly small benefits of recuperative sleep have a significant long-term impact.
You might even notice you do the following things once you start taking advantage of a full night’s sleep.
1. Lose Weight
Deep sleep helps maintain a healthy weight and body mass index. Poor sleepers — those who clock in under six hours on a regular basis — exhibit increased production of the hormone ghrelin, which boosts appetite. In a tough to beat one-two punch, sleep-deprivation is also associated with a decrease in body leptin levels, which means less of the hormone that signals feeling full.
If you’re working hard to reach and maintain weight goals with diet and exercise, consider adding sleep to your arsenal of strategies. You’ll feel better about your body in more ways than one!
2. Learn — and Remember — More Effectively
If you ever wanted a scientifically backed rationale for hitting the sack early or taking naps, here it is. Researchers from the University of Zurich have recently demonstrated a linear relationship between learning efficiency and deep, uninterrupted sleep.
During the REM — rapid eye movement — cycle, information and impressions from waking hours are consolidated in the brain for easy recognition and reactivation. Like a filing system for knowledge, information is organized and restructured for enhanced memory and fluency. If sleep is interrupted, REM cycles are compromised, and learning performance suffers.
3. Become a Safer Driver
Sleep deprivation affects focus, attention and reaction time — all cornerstones of safe behavior behind the wheel. Have you ever woken up suddenly with a shock, surprised to find yourself asleep? These unexpected rest spells are called “micro-sleep” and are commonly experienced by the chronically fatigued.
Whether you’re slow to react, inattentive, having trouble focusing or literally falling asleep in the driver’s seat, sleep-impaired driving is on par with drunk driving. In fact, over 7,000 people have been killed in accidents attributed to sleep deprivation over the past 10 years.
Just as you’d grab the keys from a friend who’s had one too many, be ready to step in if you know a driver is exhausted, and feel free to ask for help if you’re the one who can’t keep your eyes open.
4. Get Healthier
Many things happen while you sleep. What seems like rest is actually the body healing itself.
Poor sleepers have habitually high levels of inflammatory proteins in their blood, which often leads to chronic feelings of pain. The stress hormone cortisol is also released when sleep quality is low. Over time, high cortisol levels increase the risk of a heart attack and wreak havoc on blood pressure readings.
On the flip side, getting between seven and nine hours of sleep on a regular basis strengthens immunity, helps regulate blood sugar levels, supports muscle repair and may even boost sex drive!
5. Make Better Decisions
The pervasive lack of focus and attention that goes hand-in-hand with sleep deprivation does not lend well to wise decision-making. Studies show that lack of sleep affects the right prefrontal portion of the brain, which is responsible for, among other things, reward and the ability to delay gratification. Insufficient sleep increases the desire for an immediate award.
If you’ve got an important choice to make, do yourself a favor and sleep on it first.
And if you want to be healthy, fit, safe and able to call on those brain cells when you need them the most, get good and comfortable with the notion of quality sleep — it’s about to become your new best friend!