Why You Shouldn't Skimp on Sleep (Plus Ways to Get More of It)
We all strive to be our best. Nevertheless, many of us downplay the importance of sleep—a crucial first step. It’s impossible to be our best when we don’t even start our days at full capacity. According to the CDC over one third of American adults don’t get the minimum seven hours of sleep.
A bit of background: I grew up in a household that didn’t think twice about sleep. We worked hard, played hard, and were forever sleep deprived. I would wake up for school groggy and unable to learn or perform at my full potential. It wasn’t until my senior year in highschool when I realized the reason I felt so much better during summer break was because of my full night’s sleeps. Since then, I’ve tried to improve my sleep schedule so that I feel refreshed in the morning; even if some nights are a struggle. Breaking old habits is difficult, but still obtainable. While on the job and at school, it was critical to improve my sleep for creative and thinking potential.
According to Circadian Neuroscientist, Russell Foster, 36% of our lives are spent asleep. This might be scary to some who think sleep is getting in the way of their productivity, but while we are asleep our brain performs essential tasks to prepare us for the next day.
Interestingly, scientists have found a gene that only turns on while we’re asleep. This gene has been connected to the restoring, replacing, and rebuilding of cells, tissue and bone that were used the previous day. Essentially, sleep is a healing process from the wears and tears of everyday life.
All organs have the continuous problem of cleaning away the waste that our cells produce. For most organs, this problem is solved by the lymphatic system which is a vital part of the immune system. However, our brain uses 25% of our available energy, so it doesn’t have the capabilities to clean itself during the day like other organs. Our brain must clean itself while it is less active and when we are asleep. It does this by shrinking its cells allowing room for Cerebral Spinal Fluid to clean out all the junk. This is the primary reason we feel refreshed after a good sleep.
Processing And Memory Consolidation
Arguably the most important function of sleep is processing and memory consolidation. While we sleep, memories are moved within the neurons from short term memory to long term memory in the cortex. These neural pathways that are created allow memories to be stored so that they can later be accessed. If we can’t store information for later, then it is essentially impossible to learn.
So, Why Does All of This Matter?
Sleep deprivation is a silent killer. As we continue to party all night long or power through unfinished work, we are increasing our risk for Alzheimer's, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, depression, and kidney disease. In addition, our bodies have a harder time fighting off a general infection like the flu. Sleep, at its core, heals and protects us.
If those diseases don’t scare you enough, sleep deprivation took part in the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion and Chernobyl. When sleep deprived, our cognitive and reasoning abilities are significantly reduced which could lead to catastrophic scenarios. You may not be a rocket scientist, but inhibited thinking, poor judgement, and loss of vigilance can affect your personal and business decisions.
I’m Not Getting Enough Sleep, Help!
If you’ve realized that you are not getting enough sleep and want to make a change, here are several tips to help you catch some z’s:
- Make your bedroom dark and cool
- Allow yourself seven to nine hours of sleep (I know, its hard)
- Reduce the amount of light 30 minutes before going to bed
- Yes, this means phones too!
- Don’t drink coffee after lunch
- Take a nap!
- Naps have been shown to improve performance equal to a full night of sleep.