Worldwide, most of us are not getting enough rest. According to one expert, we are in the midst of a “global sleep crisis.” In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control has officially deemed sleep a public health issue, with nearly 87 million Americans suffering from sleep deprivation.
It’s time to make sleep a top priority. Sleep is the foundation of a healthy body and mind. Not getting enough sleep is a risk factor for diabetes, depression, and cancer, and even puts us at higher risk for car accidents, industrial disasters, medical errors, and job-related injuries.
Without enough rest, we don’t have the physical or mental stamina to do all of the things that bring us joy. That’s because while we sleep, every cell in our body repairs and restores itself to keep us functioning and feeling our best. Dr. Adam Perlman, meQuilibrium’s Chief Medical Officer, shares his sleep 101 on why—and how—to get the rest you need:
1. Sleep helps keep you physically healthy
Sleep is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside when you’re pressed for time. But there are long-term health consequences to not getting enough zzzs: According to Harvard Medical School, you’re at greater risk for conditions such as obesity, lower immune function, and heart disease. Research has also shown that missing sleep elevates stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which over time can lead to high blood pressure.
“It’s easy to slip into thinking, Oh I’ll pay back my sleep debt next week, but somehow you never do,” says Dr. Perlman. We all aspire to live a full, richly rewarding life, chock full of family, friends, work we like, and so on. But when busy days brimming with activities and commitments start habitually edging out much-needed sleep, it’s worth taking a step back to consider what’s truly important to you. Think of it this way: investing more time in sleep now is investing in a healthier, happier you down the road.
2. Sleep keeps your brain sharp
During a good night’s sleep, your brain does its housekeeping—clearing away mental cobwebs and straightening out the emotional furniture, so to speak. When you don’t get enough sleep, the job doesn’t get done, which is why you feel fuzzy-headed, can’t think straight, and tend to lose your cool after a restless night.
Lack of sleep can lead to bad judgment calls because you’re unable to think clearly. It can also disrupt both working (short-term) and long-term memory. Though the mechanism for why this happens isn’t clear, it is believed that the neural connections that make our memories are strengthened during sleep, transferring and embedding the things we’ve experienced and learned over the course of the day from one brain region to another.
Equally as troubling is that sleepiness slows your reaction time. You may be surprised to learn that drowsy driving is as dangerous as driving drunk and, according to The National Highway Safety Administration, responsible for around 100,000 crashes each year. What greater incentive for being well-rested than helping to keep yourself, your children, and everyone else on the road safe?
3. Sleep keeps you on an even emotional keel
According to a recent study, our brain’s ability to regulate emotions can be compromised if we don’t get enough sleep. But you probably don’t need science to tell you that feeling tired can turn you into an emotional mess. Sleep deprivation leads to feelings of irritability, anger, and hostility and is correlated to an increased risk of depression.
“The ability to bounce back from adversity and stress—whether your child care cancels at the last minute, your computer crashes, or your car won’t start—is resilience,” says Dr. Perlman, and it’s key to emotional health. Good sleep encourages optimal emotional (and physical) functioning, and thus is essential for resilience.
Elior Moskowitz is an intern at meQuilibrium in the Content department. She’s a recent college grad with a dual major in Psychology and English.