Author: Duncan Price, Hypnotherapist & Sleep Specialist
It often seems, these days, that there’s a pill for everything and that everyone is looking for that quick-fix solution to look after their health. Wouldn’t it be great if there was just one simple thing you could do to boost your immune system, give your body the power to heal itself and reduce the chance of developing illness?
Wouldn’t it be even better if there were no adverse side effects? What if, in addition to all those benefits, it actually offered additional benefits to your mental and physical wellbeing with the side-effects being more energy, greater concentration and improved cognitive abilities.
Does all that sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not. In fact, not only does such a thing exist but it’s available to EVERYONE and it’s absolutely free! That thing, as you probably already guessed from the rather obvious title, is sleep.
Why Is Sleep So Important To Our Physical Health?
Sleep plays a part in every single system in our bodies. When we sleep better our bodies work better, and our bodily functions become far more efficient. There are the obvious benefits of greater energy and concentration, which you have likely already experienced (or struggled with when missing out on sleep) but there are also other impacts which may be less obviously noticed, these are the effects on which this article focuses.
Our immune system is central to defending our bodies against infection, chronic illness, and life threatening impacts on our health. The human immune system is a complex system that keeps itself in balance through a number of different mechanisms. One main element is the production and distribution of white blood cells which directly fight against foreign invaders such as viruses. The production of these white blood cells and much of the other regulation of this system is controlled by proteins known as cytokines.
When we sleep our bodies produce cytokines as well as antibodies and other cells that help keep us healthy and well. Even more so in the later stages of sleep than at the start. This is why quality sleep, as well as enough of it, can have such a positive benefit on our immune system.
In summary, studies show that a lack of sleep will increase our chances of getting ill and slow our recovery time from said illness.
You’ve probably experienced at some point the impact that a lack of sleep can have on your diet. When we are sleep deprived we are likely to have less energy and, as such, less desire to burn off calories. We are also less able to make good decisions, so more likely skip the workout and head to the fridge. Sleep impacts on the production of hormones which regular appetite. When sleep deprived we produce less leptin which means we don’t feel as full, even after eating and we produce more ghrelin which stimulates our appetite.
One study showed that people lost 55% less fat while maintaining the same calorie intake when reducing sleep over a 14 day period.
Studies also. Show that sleep impacts our production of insulin, especially after eating, and reduces our tolerance to glucose. This is not good for weight loss and is thought to be a contributing factor to obesity and can lead to diabetes.
Our heart needs us to sleep too. This links to the point above about glucose (blood sugar) as this can affect the heart too. Good sleep can also reduce blood pressure and inflammation which has the potential to lead to cardiovascular disease. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Much like the rest of your body, your skin repairs itself most efficiently when you sleep. Producing more collagen, as you do during sleep, means your skin will look ‘plumper’ and will be less likely to wrinkle as well as being less likely to become dry.
Good sleep is linked to better cognitive function, improved memory, better mood and greater creativity. I’ve covered in more detail in an earlier article the role that sleep plays in keeping the brain in good condition including the role of microglia. When we sleep these tiny cells effectively clean away the proteins that build up around the brain. Much like when we brush our teeth, this keeps the brain clean and able to function better.
What This Means
In summary, to be in the best health and to be best placed to fight off illness and function well, it’s worth focusing on getting a good amount (6-9 hours for most people) and quality of sleep. It will reduce your risk of a number of chronic illnesses including heart disease, diabetes as well as helping you feel better and enjoy more energy and improved cognitive function.