Sleeping Beauty - The Benefits of a Good Night's Sleep

The Many Benefits of Sleep

We all need a good night’s sleep, so we can take out the trash!

Whether you’re a working adult, a primary caregiver, or just a regular, run-of-the-mill teenager, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from one of the fastest growing medical problems of the 21st century. It’s a problem that has a significant bearing on our quality of life and which is increasingly associated with a host of medical issues. It impacts us physically and emotionally, and if you don’t suffer from it yourself, then it’s almost certain you know someone who does. 

The name of this problem? In medical circles, it’s referred to as Collective Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) but most of us simply call it ‘lack of sleep’.

CFS is very much a product of our modern lifestyle and our desire to have it all. In newspapers and magazines, on television and in the movies, we’re constantly regaled with images and stories of a ‘sleepless elite’; a group of business and political leaders who have highly successful, incredibly full lives, despite surviving on only 4 to 6 hours sleep a night. Numbered amongst this group are people like Marissa Mayer, the ex-CEO of Yahoo!; Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter; Indra Nooyi, who has been feted for her work as CEO and Chairman of Pepsi; and Barack Obama. They’re held up to us as an ideal, as examples of what we might all achieve if we work hard and put our minds to it. We want their life. Or if not theirs, then the life of that gorgeous young medico on our favourite television soap, who works impossible hours but still finds time to socialise with her mates at her local watering hole, and who has such an adventurous love life.

We are, in other words, either chasing a dream or trying desperately to conform to an idealised norm which has been thrust upon us from on high. But there’s a cost to the chase. There are not enough hours in the day. And so, we neglect our sleep.

That we so often sleep less than we should is a mistake. Research tells us that it’s during our sleeping hours that the brain rids itself of toxic metabolic by-products which have built up during our waking hours.  If we don’t sleep a sufficient amount, then these by-products accumulate, impairing brain function, destroying neurons, and potentially causing neuro-degenerative disorders.

Put simply, sleep helps our mind and body take out the trash. If we don’t get enough of it, then the garbage builds up and it starts to stink.

How much sleep then, should we be getting? The answer to that varies according to age, gender, and the individual, but here’s a rough guide. For most, it will come as no surprise that new-borns and infants need anywhere between 14-18 hrs sleep per day, and that preschoolers should be getting between 11-13 hours of sleep per day. Less commonly known is that 5 to 12-year-olds still require between 10-11 hours’ sleep per day, and that teenagers should be sleeping 8.5-9 hours each and every night.

In the case of young adults, this amount of sleep is problematic, and studies indicate that most teenagers are only averaging between 7.2-7.4 hours per night, with a number sleeping considerably less than that. This is because young adults are wired to stay up late and wake late, a state of affairs which generally runs contrary to the requirements of school and family. The problem with this (and this applies to sleep deprived adults also) is that recent laboratory studies indicate that should we miss our required sleep hours by as little as 1.3 to 1.5 hours a night, our daytime alertness is reduced by up to one third!

As adults, we still require between 7 to 9 hours a night to function effectively. And, if you’re a woman, it turns out you need more sleep than a man. In his book, ‘Sleepfaring: A Journey Through the Science of Sleep’, Professor Jim Horne states that women, on average, need twenty minutes more sleep a night than men. Not surprisingly (sorry guys!), this is because women spend much more of their time multitasking than their male counterparts. They use more of their brain throughout the day and thus require more time to recharge it.

And if we don’t get enough sleep? What then?

It doesn’t make for pretty reading, but here’s a list of researched effects and potential consequences stemming from insomnia or overly short sleeps:

  • Increased risk of accidents involving motor vehicles or heavy machinery.
  • Increased Body Mass Index and a greater risk of obesity.
  • Increased risk of heart disease.
  • Increased risk of diabetes.
  • Increased risk of depression and other psychiatric conditions.
  • Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Increased skin aging and inability of the skin to deal with external stressors such as sunburn and skin rashes.
  • Decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals and remember new information.

For those of us who survive on too little sleep, this is a thought-provoking list and a salutary reminder that we should not take our body and its needs for granted. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to remedy the situation should we be of a mind. The Sleep Foundation offers the following tips for sleeping longer and better:

  • Try to establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends.
  • Try to create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music. Try too, to implement this routine about an hour before you aim to sleep.
  • Make sure your bedroom is a space conducive to sleep. It should be dark, comfortable, cool, and quiet.
  • Invest in quality bedding, especially your mattress and pillow.
  • Rid your bedroom of electronic items, including laptops and televisions.
  • Eat 2-3 hours before going to bed.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid alcohol and coffee close to bedtime.
  • Don’t smoke.

This is a common-sense list, one most of us should be able to stick to, with a little bit of planning and a determination to sleep well.

And if we do implement it? Well, we can not only look forward to feeling healthier, happier, and more alert, we’ll also wake fresh each morning, to discover that we’ve put out our trash!

This blog post was written for educational purposes only. It is not designed to diagnose, treat or cure. For individual health concerns, The Organic Skin Co. recommends that you consult with a relevant health professional.