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bigstock-Beautiful-young-woman-sleeping-324970987Another holiday season has come and gone and if you’re at home for the next few days enjoying your freedom until the reality of Monday rolls around, consider using this time to catch up on those Zzz’s. Getting proper sleep is essential for maintaining optimal health. When it comes to health, sleep is just as important, if not more, than exercise and a balanced diet. It turns out, sleep is the magical ingredient to keep your brain, your body, and your emotions functioning at an ideal level.

Keep reading to discover the importance of not skimping on your 7-9 hours of sleep each evening. The following items are just a few of the numerous benefits of getting a good night’s sleep.

  1. Sleep can improve productivity, concentration, memory, and learning

Proper sleep is vital for various aspects of brain function, including cognition, concentration, productivity and performance. Studies have found that a lack of sleep can negatively impact brain function, similar to alcohol intoxication. Sleep allows the brain to commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. A 2015 study showed that children’s sleep patterns can have a direct impact on their behavior and academic performance. Other studies show that people who slept after learning a new task, scored better on tests than those who did not sleep after. Getting a proper night’s rest can help to improve problem-solving skills and enhance memory of both adults and children, giving you even more reason to clock in a proper amount of shut eye each night.

  1. Sleep helps with weight loss and weight maintenance

Roughly half of the people who make New Years’ resolutions strive to lose weight and get in shape. The often-overlooked strategy for maintaining or losing weight can be found right in your bedroom. Short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity and people who clock in less sleep than necessary tend to weigh significantly more than those who get adequate sleep. Studies show children and adults who lacked proper sleep were 89% and 55% more likely to become obese, respectively.

The connection of lack of sleep and weight gain is believed to be caused by a disturbance in the natural balance of the hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, along with the lack of motivation to exercise. Without a good night’s sleep, the body has higher levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, and reduced levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite. This is why after a night of tossing and turning you may have an insatiable urge to polish off the bowl of chips or the office candy dish.  If you strive to lose those pounds that crept on over the holiday season, before turning to the newest fad diet, plan to hit the hay a bit earlier each evening and prioritize quality sleep.

  1. Sleep supports greater athletic performance

If your goal in 2020 is to improve your fitness, increase strength or stamina, or earn a new PR in your neighborhood 5K, consider that getting a sufficient amount of sleep can boost athletic performance. Sleep is just as important to athletes as nutrition, as the body heals during deep sleep cycles. A recent study on basketball players showed that longer sleep improved speed, accuracy, reaction times and mental well-being among the athletes. Likewise, poor sleep has been linked to slower walking paces, lower grip strength, and greater difficulty performing independent activities among elderly women. As you strategically plan your workouts and classes to reach your fitness goals, make sure getting proper sleep is part of that plan.

  1. Sleep can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States and one of the main risk factors is high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting adequate rest each night allows the body’s blood pressure to regulate itself. Doing so can reduce the chances of sleep-related conditions such as sleep apnea and promote better overall heart health. A review of several studies found that people who slept less than seven hours per night are at far greater risks of heart disease or stroke. If for nothing else, work to improve your sleep to keep your ticker in top shape.

  1. Adequate sleep leads to social and emotional intelligence

Sleep has several links to emotional and social intelligence. Sleep deprived individuals are more likely to have issues with recognizing other people’s emotions and expressions, and sleep loss reduces the ability to interact socially. Researchers believe that poor sleep affects the ability to recognize social cues and to distinguish and process emotions, such as anger and happiness. So, unless you plan on hibernating and avoiding other people at all costs, hit the sack earlier and longer to help make your social interactions smooth and pleasant.

  1. Quality sleep can prevent depression and other mental health issues

Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness and unfortunately, this number is rising. Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are strongly linked to poor sleep quality and sleep disorders, such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea. Researchers estimate that 90% of people with depression complain about sleep quality. Sadly, poor sleep is even associated with an increased risk of death by suicide. As therapy, exercise, and meditation can help one cope with anxiety and depression, improving sleep is another proven strategy to help chase the blues away.

  1. Sleep can help to lower inflammation in the body

Sleep can have a major effect on inflammation in the body and sleep loss is known to activate undesirable markers of inflammation promoting cell damage. Chronic inflammation plays a principal role in diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s. Studies show that poor sleep is linked to long-lasting inflammation of the digestive tract, such as in inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). Researchers observed that Crohn’s disease patients who were sleep-deprived were twice as likely to relapse as patients who slept well. As inflammation continues to wreak havoc on our society, consider getting proper sleep to combat some of this damage.

  1. Sleep promotes a stronger immune system

‘Tis the season for a sniffle, a cough, and possibly even the dreaded flu. Getting ample shut eye may be an overlooked solution to staying healthy through the cold and flu months. Sleep helps the body repair, regenerate, and recover and the immune system is no exception. Studies show that quality sleep can help the body fight off infection and even a small loss of sleep can impair immune function. Individuals who slept less than seven hours each night were three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept more. If you’re one of the unlucky ones who often suffer from colds, increasing your sleep can be just as beneficial to keep you in tip top shape as washing your hands and staying away from your sniffling coworkers.

  1. Sleep can decrease the risk of Type 2 Diabetes

More than 30 million Americans live with diabetes and 90 to 95% of these individuals have Type 2 Diabetes. Poor sleep habits are strongly linked to adverse effects of blood sugar. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to affect the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates. People who sleep less than six hours each night have been shown to be at an increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Experts associate this with an altered hormone balance that affects food intake and weight. As stated above, a lack of sleep can increase your risk of obesity which in turn, can increase your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. If you needed another reason to clock in extra hours of Zzz’s, increase your sleep to reduce the chances of developing diabetes down the road.

How much sleep is enough? Although sleep needs can vary from person to person, according to the CDC, this is how many hours you and your loved ones should be clocking for optimal health and wellness:

  • Newborns (0–3 months):14–17 hours
  • Infants (4–12 months):12–16 hours
  • Toddler (1–2 years):11–14 hours
  • Preschool (3–5 years):10–13 hours
  • School age (6–12 years):9–12 hours
  • Teen (13–18 years):8–10 hours
  • Adult (18–60 years):7-plus hours
  • Adult (61–64 years):7–9 hours
  • Adult (65+ years):7–8 hours

So how can you improve both sleep quality and quantity?

Attempt to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, and yes, this applies to weekends too! Spend time outdoors to regulate your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycles), especially during the winter when daylight is harder to come by. Strive to get exercise in each day but keep the high energy and HIIT workouts to earlier in the day and not too close to bedtime. Make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep by purchasing blackout shades or use an eye mask, keep the temperature between 62 and 68 degrees, drown out sounds with a fan or white noise machine, and invest in comfy sheets and pillowcases.  Go back to your youth and incorporate a nightly bedtime routine that allows you to unwind and relax (take a bath, read a book, meditate, gentle yoga, etc.). Lastly, reduce stress through exercise, meditation, essential oils, etc. to help quiet your mind and doze off into dreamland.

Although your to-do list may place sleep at the bottom of your priorities, focusing on improving sleep can enhance everything from your body composition, to reduced health risks, and even an improvement in your mental health. Without enough shut eye, the body cannot repair, renew, and refresh, as we want moving into a new decade.  If you find yourself struggling with this, reach out to Merritt Clubs’ Nutrition and Wellness Department and check out our 12-Weeks to Wellness Program that will help you strategize sleep, along with several other wellness components to optimize health and longevity.

Anyone else yawning for a nap?