Is Sleep as Important as Diet and Exercise?
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Is Sleep as Important as Diet and Exercise?
When it comes to our health, did you know that sleep is equally as important as diet and exercise? The importance of sleep seems to get skipped over when we hear people speaking about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, just like diet and exercise, sleep is a critical determinant of both physical health and mental well-being.
Why is Sleep Important?
Sleep is not simply rest to our body. Instead, it is a restorative process that is critical for the proper functioning of all organs. It is one of the most basic necessities for life – and we simply cannot live without it. As we pass through the five stages of sleep, the body works to recover from the cognitive and physical stressors of the day. During this time, the body undergoes repair and detoxification on a cellular level. Sleep is the time that our muscles repair the damages and wear and tear from everyday life. In addition, sleep has an essential role in regulating the body’s immune system. When sleep deprived, the body has been found to produce fewer infection-fighting antibodies. This may explain why studies have shown that you’re more likely to catch a cold virus when you are sleep deprived.
Benefits of sleep as compared to diet
The benefits of sleep are surprisingly similar to the benefits of a proper diet. We all know that a healthy diet will help to sharpen the mind and improve our moods – but can a healthy night’s sleep produce all the same benefits?
Much like diet, a healthy amount of quality sleep does the following:
- Sharpens the mind: While we sleep, one of the most active parts of the body is the brain. According to the director of the Division of Epilepsy and Sleep at Columbia University, Carl W. Bazil, MD, PhD, the pronounced changes in the electrical activity of the sleeping brain represent trillions of nerve cells rewiring themselves. This rewiring, which occurs during slow-wave sleep, allows the brain to process and retain the memories and new information that we have obtained throughout the day.
- Improves moods and benefits emotional regulation: Sleep helps our brain regulate mood and deal with the emotions and situations that come with each day. Insufficient sleep has been shown to stimulate the amygdala. This is the part of the brain connected to psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. With the proper amount of sleep, our brain is able to cope with emotional stressors and produce controlled responses. Overall, a good night’s rest provides the mental strength and clarity to deal with stress – boosting our moods and leading to better emotional regulation.
Benefits of sleep as compared to exercise
What about comparing the benefits of sleep to exercise? We also see similar benefits between the two, such as the promotion of a healthy weight and prevention of disease.
Sleep, much like exercise, has the following benefits:
- Promotes a healthy weight: The hormones that regulate hunger and metabolism are produced while we sleep. For example, growth hormone, a protein which regulates the body’s proportions of fat and muscle, is produced while we sleep. When we do not receive enough sleep, levels of the hormone leptin are decreased. This causes the body to crave carbohydrates. Also, insufficient sleep causes the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can stimulate hunger and lead to overeating.
Researchers have found that women who get five hours of sleep or less per night tend to weigh more than those who get seven hours each night.
- Combats diseases: Studies show that receiving a good night’s rest can reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases and lessen the severity of a preexisting disease. One way that sleep helps combat disease is through the production of cytokine, a hormone that helps our body fight off infection and inflammation. Without a proper amount of sleep, we put our body at great risk to develop life-long maladies. Insufficient sleep is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.
However, while comparing sleep to exercise, it is important to note that sleep actually allows our body to exercise! Without sleep, the body could not undergo the processes of repair that allow it to recuperate and heal from exercise. While exercise is beneficial to one’s health, it can come at great cost to your bones and joints. During sleep, the body begins to repair itself on a cellular level. Non-REM sleep is mainly a time for restoration of one’s body. Tissues and nerve cells are repaired, chemical levels are returned to normal, and neurotoxins are neutralized. Overall, sleep repairs the physical damage that exercise causes, allowing us to get up every day and get moving!
Receiving a sufficient amount of quality sleep is an integral component to living a healthy and happy life. However, we often overlook our own sleep patterns. Sleep plays a huge role in our body’s mental and physical health and without a proper amount of it every night we can suffer from a cloudy mind, mood swings, weight gain, and maladies of the body and mind like heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Although it is clear that sleep plays a vital role in one’s health, roughly 68% of Americans – 164 million people – still struggle with sleep every week! Considering the benefits we receive from sleep, we should be focusing on the sleep that we receive just as much as we focus on our diet and exercise habits.
If you are one of us who struggle to get a good night’s sleep, try out some natural remedies that will help you fall asleep and receive a full night’s rest. Some of the most popular techniques include bedtime yoga, aromatherapy with essential oils, herbal teas, a warm bath before bedtime, and a diet rich in healthy carbs such as quinoa.