Sleep is a required activity, not an option. Sleep is a behavioral state that is a natural part of every individual’s life. We spend about one-third of our lives asleep. Nonetheless, people generally know little about the importance of this essential activity. Sleep is not just something to fill time when a person is inactive. Even though the precise functions of sleep remain a mystery, sleep is important for normal motor and cognitive function. We all recognize and feel the need to sleep. After sleeping, we recognize changes that have occurred, as we feel rested and more alert. Sleep actually appears to be required for survival.
So many factors make sleep absolutely necessary to life. Sleep is important for concentration, memory formation and the repair of damage to your body’s cells during the day. Chronic lack of sleep increases the risk for developing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and infections.
FOOD FOR THOUGHTS: According to sleep experts, teens need at least 8.5 – 9.25 hours of sleep each night, compared to an average of seven to nine hours each night for most adults. Their internal biological clocks also keep them awake later in the evening and keep them sleeping later in the morning. However, many schools begin classes early in the morning, when a teenager’s body wants to be asleep.
Exercise can improve the quality of your sleep. More specifically, exercise can make your sleep deeper –- meaning that your sleep will be more refreshing and you will be less likely to wake up during the night.
When Should I Exercise for Better Sleep?
Don’t exercise right before bed. According to the National Sleep Foundation, exercising 2 to 3 hours before bed could interfere with your sleep. Instead, exercise in the morning or afternoon.
Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center showed that morning exercise increased the sleep quality of cancer-free post-menopausal women, but when the women exercised closer to bedtime, there was no improvement in sleep quality.
In the study, over 170 women (aged 50 to 75) participated in either a moderately intense exercise program for a year or a low-intensity stretching program. Women who exercised at least 225 minutes a week in the morning reported better sleep than women who exercise 180 minutes or less in the morning. The opposite effect was noted among evening exercisers: Women who exercised only 180 minutes or less in the evening reported better sleep than those who exercised more in the evening.
Why is Morning Exercise Better?
Researchers believe that morning exercise may help to set a person’s circadian rhythms (body clock) to be awake during the day and asleep at night. Exercising at night may create the pattern that the body is too awake in the evening.
Benefits of Sleep
Sleep Keeps Your Heart Healthy
Heart attacks and strokes are more common during the early morning hours. This fact may be explained by the way sleep interacts with the blood vessels. Lack of sleep has been associated with worsening of blood pressure and cholesterol, all risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Your heart will be healthier if you get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.
Sleep May Prevent Cancer
People working the late shift have a higher risk for breast and colon cancer. Researchers believe this link is caused by differing levels of melatonin in people who are exposed to light at night. Light exposure reduces the level of melatonin, a hormone that both makes us sleepy and is thought to protect against cancer. Melatonin appears to suppress the growth of tumors. Be sure that your bedroom is dark to help your body produce the melatonin it needs.
Sleep Reduces Stress
When your body is sleep deficient, it goes into a state of stress. The body’s functions are put on high alert which causes an increase in blood pressure and a production of stress hormones. Higher blood pressure increases your risk for heart attacks and strokes. The stress hormones also, unfortunately, make it harder for you to sleep. Learn relaxation techniques to counter the effects of stress. There are also stress reduction techniques for sleep.
Sleep Reduces Inflammation
The increase in stress hormones raises the level of inflammation in your body, also creating more risk for heart-related conditions, as well as cancer and diabetes. Inflammation is thought to one of the causes of the deterioration of your body as you age.
Sleep Makes You More Alert
Of course, a good night’s sleep makes you feel energized and alert the next day. Being engaged and active not only feels great, it increases your chances for another good night’s sleep. When you wake up feeling refreshed, use that energy to get out into the daylight, do active things, and be engaged in your world. You’ll sleep better the next night and increase your daily energy level.
Sleep Bolsters Your Memory
Researchers do not fully understand why we sleep and dream, but a process called memory consolidation occurs during sleep. While your body may be resting, your brain is busy processing your day, making connections between events, sensory input, feelings and memories. Your dreams and deep sleep are an important time for your brain to make memories and links. Getting more quality sleep will help you remember and process things better.
Sleep May Help You Lose Weight
Researchers have also found that people who sleep less than seven hours per night are more likely to be overweight or obese. It is thought that the lack of sleep impacts the balance of hormones in the body that affect appetite. The hormones ghrelin and leptin, important for the regulation of appetite, have been found to be disrupted by lack of sleep. So if you are interested in controlling or losing weight, don’t forget to pay attention to getting a good night’s sleep.
Naps Make You Smarter
Napping during the day is not only an effective and refreshing alternative to caffeine, it can also protect your health and make you more productive. A study of 24,000 Greek adults showed that people who napped several times a week had a lower risk for dying from heart disease. People who nap at work have much lower levels of stress. Napping also improves memory, cognitive function and mood.
Sleep May Reduce Your Risk for Depression
Sleep impacts many of the chemicals in your body, including serotonin. People with a deficiency in serotonin are more likely to suffer from depression. You can help to prevent depression by making sure you are getting the right amount of sleep, between 7 and 9 hours each night.
Sleep Helps the Body Make Repairs
Sleep is a time for your body to repair damage caused by stress, ultraviolet rays and other harmful exposures. Your cells produce more protein while you are sleeping. These protein molecules form the building blocks for cells, allowing them to repair damage.