By Shelby Freedman Harris, PsyD, for YouBeauty.com
Our society is constantly trying to find the magic pill, the easiest fix and the best way to achieve beauty and health. And we're always reading about how a healthy diet and regular exercise are really the ticket to helping us look better, feel stronger and live longer. And that's true. But what's often left out of that equation is the one thing we all are supposed to do but never get enough of: sleep.
In light of that, I've decided to have a back-to-basics talk about just what sleep can do for you. Diet and exercise are only 2/3 of the puzzle. The missing piece is sleep. Getting enough of it on a regular basis will benefit you in more ways than you might realize.
Here are six ways sleep improves our lives:
Sleep saves us from making bad decisions.
Not getting enough sleep negatively affects our frontal lobe, a part of the brain that governs decision-making. We make poorer food choices in a sleep-deprived state and decide to rest instead of exercise. Research also shows that lack of sleep in adolescents leads to prefrontal cortex dysfunction, increasing the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, such as alcohol, drugs and unprotected sex.
Sleep prevents us from gorging on junk food and gaining weight.
Lack of sleep makes it more difficult to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. That's because not getting enough sleep increases the hormone that tells us "I'm hungry" (ghrelin) and reduces the "I'm full" signal (leptin). We then eat foods full of sugar, fat and carbohydrates to give us quick boosts of energy -- and then have a harder time stopping. Getting enough sleep -- around seven to eight hours -- stops that negative cycle before it starts.
Sleep makes you look younger.
There's no question that sleep helps us look better. Research shows that sleep-deprived people are perceived as less healthy, less attractive and more tired compared to those who've had a good night's sleep. Good quality and quantity of sleep help boost production of HGH, or human growth hormone. HGH is produced during the deeper stages of sleep and is highest in childhood and adolescence, but remains lower, but steady, in adulthood. Less sleep equals less time for HGH production, and less HGH has been linked with reduced muscle mass, slower metabolism, more belly fat and sagging skin.
Sleep helps us fend off colds.
If you don't get enough quality sleep on a regular basis, you are more susceptible to illness. Is there an annoying cold that's going around the office? Proper hand hygiene is definitely paramount, but making sure you are well rested may even help reduce the risk or severity of a cold.
Sleep helps you focus on important tasks.
Sleep is crucial for attention, concentration and coordination. Poor sleep has repeatedly been shown to lead to poor work and school performance. Sleep-deprived adolescents and young adults are often dozing in class and struggle with learning and retaining information. Lack of sleep impairs attention, completing tasks and concentration. You might need to read the same thing over and over again, becoming less efficient overall. In addition, insufficient sleep can impair motor functioning, making exercise more challenging and slowing overall reaction times. Notably, sleep deprivation leads to about 100,000 sleep-related automobile accidents a year, with 1,500 of them resulting in death.
Sleep gives us a mood boost.
When we're better rested, we tend to be less irritable, depressed and anxious. With better mood comes better quality of life. We desire to engage in activities that we find enjoyable and conversely, we get more enjoyment out of life in general.
If you're contemplating making some changes to rejuvenate your life, consider putting proper sleep at the top of the list. You may even find that, with adequate nightly sleep, it will be easier to achieve the other things on your list.