The Importance of Sleep

By: KELLY SHERIDAN

Sometimes it feels as if there just aren’t enough hours in the day. As soon as that morning alarm goes off there are meetings to attend, meals to prepare, assignments to complete, and errands to run. As if those activities aren’t enough, time is also often set aside for exercise and social activities, two important factors in the schedules of most healthy people. In the back of everyone’s mind there is likely a mental to-do list of the many goals that will be accomplished by the end of the day. However, what many people do not consider is the amount of sleep they will get once that list is complete. Although the number of hours spent snoozing is often considered unimportant, getting a healthy amount of sleep is crucial for a healthy lifestyle. Without proper rest every night, the body will not have enough energy to keep up with a busy, active schedule.
Though often underestimated in its importance, quality sleep is just as important to a healthy lifestyle as diet and regular exercise. The average adult should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. During sleep, energy levels are lowered, the muscles have a chance to repair and revitalize themselves, and the body is able to prepare itself for high energy and mental clarity the next day. Furthermore, the brain is able to reflect on the things it has learned throughout the day and commit them to memory. This process, called memory consolidation, helps individuals retain new information for longer periods of time. This process of memorizing new information, called memory consolidation, is particularly significant for college students who often cram for tests and pull “all-nighters” the night before an exam. Getting quality sleep the night before a test will ultimately be better for the student’s body – and GPA – than staying up all night cramming. Villanova business student Bobby Herz says, “I always try to get enough sleep, or else I’m not productive the next day. I always try to aim for eight hours.” Students everywhere would benefit from Herz’s example, as higher grades are not the only positive result that can come from getting quality sleep.
Below are a few more benefits of having a healthy sleep schedule:

  • Maintain A Healthy Weight: A prolonged period of sleep deprivation can ultimately lead to weight gain. As the body gets used to receiving less sleep, it changes the way in which it processes and stores carbohydrates. The appetite may increase as well, leading to cravings for more snacks throughout the day.

 

  • Be Safe: Those who have been extremely sleep-deprived may find themselves feeling drowsier, and even falling asleep, during the day. This is extremely hazardous, especially for those who work in a health profession or spend a great deal of time driving. It has been shown that a good deal of car accidents occur because the driver is tired and not paying attention, so be sure to stay alert on the road!

 

  • Be Happier: Nobody is in the best mood when sleep-deprived. Skimping on sleep can result in impatience, irritability, and moodiness. It is also likely that energy levels will be too low to participate in recreational hobbies such as running, swimming, or playing team sports.

 

  • Stay Disease-free: The immune system may be compromised by a lack of sleep, weakening the body’s ability to fight off disease. Sleeping a healthy amount every night may also help guard the body against cancer in the future.

 

Insomnia is often a reason that people get less than enough sleep every night. As the most common of all sleep problems, it affects 30-40 percent of adult Americans. While some suffer from acute insomnia, meaning that it is only a problem for a few nights, after a month of sleepless nights this can be considered a chronic problem. It should be noted that while insomnia is a disorder on its own, it is likely that there are other contributing factors to the problem. Stress often leads to a lack of sleep, as well as jet lag or a change in schedule. It is important to determine the underlying cause of the insomnia, as it can also indicate depression or anxiety. If sleepless nights are a recurring problem, a visit to a primary physician or sleep specialist is recommended.
Until then, below are some helpful tips for falling asleep:

  • Don’t just lie there: If falling asleep is a problem, get out of bed and find something to do until it is time for bed. Some recommendations include reading, listening to music, or talking on the phone. It is important that these activities are performed outside of bed, which is a place that should only be used for sleep.

 

  • Limit naps: While sometimes naps are necessary, they can also make it difficult to fall asleep at night. If a quick snooze is absolutely needed, keep it less than an hour long and try to nap before 3 p.m.

 

  • Limit caffeine: Caffeine that is consumed in the afternoon and evening can stay in the bloodstream for a long period of time and can lead to trouble sleeping.

 

  • Eat a small snack: It is detrimental to eat a large meal right before bedtime. However, eating a small snack may make it easier to fall asleep.

 

Even if a lack of sleep is the norm for some, it is never too late to make healthy changes. Spending one less hour watching television in favor of sleep will ultimately result in a happier personality and a healthier, physically fit body.

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