What is sleep and why do we do it?

Since you were born (and, you could argue, before it), sleep has been a normal physical and mental process which allows us to rest, recover, and develop. For most people, sleep is a simple process which includes finding a restful place or position, closing your eyes, and drifting your way into a peaceful slumber. However, sleep is one of the most complex biological processes and there are still questions on what sleep is and why we do it.

One third of your life is devoted to sleep, which is a significant contributor to your functional lives. You’ve probably noticed on a given day when you have been deprived of sleep, or the quality of your sleep hasn’t been the best, that the rest of the day becomes a challenge. Cognitive functions like memory and sequencing become somewhat distorted, energy levels drop and functional movement patterns are not as easily executed.

Professor Matthew Walker states “sleep is the best life insurance policy you can get”.

Health Benefits of Sleep

There is, through extensive research, an undeniable amount of physical and mental health benefits of sleep duration and quality. Below, we’ve listed just a few of those health benefits:

  • Improved cognitive functioning and improved memory
  • Better concentration and focus
  • Reduction in anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Enhance the immune system
  • Regulates the metabolism and minimises the risk of metabolic disorders and type 2 diabetes.

By enhancing the duration and the quality of your sleep it can significantly reduce the risk of long-term health related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and dementia. Below are some examples of how good quality sleep can contribute to maintaining good health:

Sleep helps control the heart rate and as a result will support the regularity of the person’s blood pressure.

When the body is sleep deprived, it can’t control its blood sugar level as effectively. By increasing regular sleeping patterns, it will enhance the sensitivity of insulin controlling blood sugar levels.

Dementia and / or Alzheimer’s disease is partly a result of amyloid accumulating and clinging to brain cells and then effectively destroying them over time. Sufficient quantity and high-quality sleep, particularly REM and deep sleep helps cleanse the ‘amyloid plaque areas’, helping to reduce the degradability of the brain over time.

Do you get enough Sleep?

Here are some interesting scientific insights into sleep from Matthew Walker.

  • 2/3 of the UK fail to have the recommended 8 hours of sleep.
  • Adults having less than 6.75 hours of sleep over a sustained length of time are more likely to develop a long-term health condition.
  • There are 100 different sleep disorders, with insomnia the most common.
  • Sleep efficiency decreases with age and therefore requires conscious decisions around pre sleep routines.
  • There’s 30% improvement in newly learnt motor skills after a full night’s sleep.
  • You feel less full and hungrier when you under sleep, with an average additional intake of 300 calories, and 40% increase in sweet cravings.
  • Increasing ‘quality of sleep’ in other words dream sleep, increases creativity and problem solving significantly.

Now we understand what sleep is, why we do it, and why we should do more of it, our next article will explore the different stages of sleep and what they mean to our functional movement and mental capacity.

Better Sleep for Everyone: Tip 1

Try and minimise your exposure to ‘blue light’ such as phones, laptops, tablets, and TV one hour before bed. Where possible, limit your sleep environment to warm light which will align your natural body clock and sleeping pattern.