Think it’s ok to go to get into a routine where you get to sleep late and get up early? Think again… We spend approximately one third of our life sleeping and should aim to get ~7-8 hours of shut eye each night. Sleep is an essential part of a life and in fact we cannot survive without it, but sleep also needs to be thought of as a main factor that enables us to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Let’s look at my top 5 reasons why prioritising your sleep can improve your health:

1. Rest and recovery
While you sleep, your body naturally slows down to allow that time to be used to replenish energy and for ‘rest and recovery’ for both the brain and body. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to release hormones, repair and rejuvenate itself.
One major role of sleep is to grow and repair muscle. If you want to maintain or build lean muscle mass and particularly if you want to maximise physical performance and the ability to make accurate split-second decisions, sleep is crucial. Research has shown that sleep is particularly important for the release of growth hormone, conservation of energy and consolidation of training techniques, so maximise your efforts by sleeping well.

2. Brain function
We all know the foggy feeling we’re left with during the day when we’ve missed out on adequate sleep. Sure, we hope that we can get through one day without too many mistakes, but the fact is that sleep is vital for cognitive functioning. Getting adequate amounts of sleep is needed to form new neural pathways, lay down short and long term memories, improve reaction time, concentration, attention levels, creativity, productivity, judgement, problem solving and accuracy. Inadequate sleep has also been linked to poorer academic results, lower sociability and higher levels of risk-taking behaviour. Need I say more?

3. Appetite control
Although we are quite inactive during sleep, our body is still working away to regulate essential functions such as metabolic and hormonal activity to ensure we start the new day fighting fit. Leptin and ghrelin are two of the main hormones that regulate our appetite and they can be greatly affected by the amount and quality of our sleep. Leptin (which tells our body that we are full) and ghrelin (which tells our body that we are hungry) are usually in sync so we can control our appetite throughout the day with our normal eating pattern. Sleep studies have shown that when people have inadequate sleep (~4-6 hours), leptin levels decrease and ghrelin levels increase which creates a state where you feel hungrier and don’t have as much incentive to stop eating. This can create havoc if you have a biscuit jar near your desk or are walking down the shopping aisles as high sugary ‘pick-me-up’ foods look awfully tempting, provide little nutrition but a whole lot of unnecessary kilojoules.

4. Immunity
Although the actual role of sleep and immune function isn’t fully understood, it is clear that there is a strong relationship. It is believed that hormones released during sleep, mainly melatonin and growth hormone, stimulate the immune system to promote tissue recovery and healing. Additionally, inadequate sleep increases your susceptibility for infections, having a more severe bout of illness and also affects short and long-term inflammation. Therefore, adequate sleep can not only improve your vitality and recovery time from a mild ailment, it can also protect against more chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and metabolic conditions, such as insulin resistance, Type 2 Diabetes and arthritis.

5. Mental health
Sleep restriction can greatly affect mood, optimism and sociability which may be one of the many reasons why the rate of mental health concerns are on the incline in today’s busy society. Without adequate sleep, our ability to effectively handle our emotions and stress levels is impaired, which can lead to greater anxiety and ability to cope in certain situations. As sleep also affects our judgement, particularly regarding logical and high-risk behaviours, chronic deprivation can have a flow on effect leading to potentially erratic behaviour, alcohol or substance abuse or suicide, particularly in younger individuals.
So, head off to bed early tonight and don’t feel guilty about hitting the snooze button in the morning! If you’re concerned about your sleeping patterns or if you notice that they may be having a negative impact on your lifestyle, talk to your doctor so once again you can prioritise sleep.