By: Tyler Lund from Dad on the Run
Originally posted here
Exercise more, lose weight, learn something new, become more productive, reduce stress. Chances are, if you are making any New Year’s Resolutions, at least one of these are included. What if there was a way to accomplish not only one, not a couple, but all of them? The largest impediment to achieving goals cited by those who fail their resolutions before the end of January is a lack of time. Sure, increasing productivity or making more of the time you have might help, but counterintuitively, the best way to achieve these goals is to slow down and get more sleep. And the benefits don’t only cover you, they can drastically improve the physical and mental health of your children too. You don’t need 20 hours of the day to focus on these goals, instead, you can prioritize longer and more consistent sleep and find that your other goals are much easier to achieve.
The downsides to not getting enough sleep are apparent to any new parent, anyone who pulled all nighters for school, or those who work late into the night. After a single night without enough sleep, you experience that lethargic feeling that leads to poor decisions throughout the day. Skipping your workout becomes easier, skipping the salad for a big lunch happens, and your work performance goes down. You also may notice you are less able to deal with stress and anxiety and react more emotionally and less logically. After a consistent lack of sleep, these problems magnify and become ingrained. Over time, serious health conditions may result including inflammation, high blood pressure, anxiety, and increased body weight. For kids, lack of sleep causes hyperactivity as well and can actually lead to ADHD-like symptoms. Yes, all of of these ramifications from not getting enough sleep.
The science of sleep is still maturing, but due to an increased focus in recent years, the benefits and health implications are beginning to be studied and understood better. One aspect that is only just now becoming clearer is the tie sleep has to memory formation and retention. In general, the link between sleep and the mind is poorly understood, but research has shown that a full night’s sleep — anything over 7 hours — is essential to processing and storing memories. Those who got a full night’s sleep — likely as a part of the REM sleep cycle — were better able to recall events, details, newly learned information, and even emotions. The last part may be the essential factor as other studies have shown that the ability to contextualize the emotional part of events leads to better memory retention. That’s why you can’t remember three Presidents ago but are able to remember the person you got into a fight with in middle school. Full, uninterrupted sleep cycles appear to be linked to better ability to remember the emotional context of events. So sleep leads to better memory which leads to increased performance at school or work. Improved memory can also help with increasing being present in the moment and general mindfulness, a trending resolution for many in this age of increased distraction.
Getting enough sleep has many demonstrable physical health benefits as well. Sleep is a key part of athletic recovery, a part of physical health and athleticism that is now starting to be better understood how important it is in fitness. Recovery is now believed to be just as important to muscle building and fat burning as the exercise activity itself and many casual and even professional athletes underestimate the importance of it in their training plans. Without adequate recovery time, particularly sleep, the likelihood of injury increases as does the chance of giving up on a fitness goal. Sleep also correlates with increased athletic performance. In studies from children to adults, those who received more sleep scored better on measures of both strength and stamina. Children in team sports who got enough sleep outperformed their peers and were more likely to still be playing the same sport at a higher level later in life. Along with increased performance, those who received enough sleep were more likely to lose fat and build muscle with exercise. Thus getting more sleep may be the best way to reach that fitness goal for the year. Along with this, adequate sleep resulted in reduced food cravings and feelings of hunger from the same amount of food, so sleep may help with that weight goal as well.
Aside from fitness and athleticism, rest is shown to reduce inflammation and the ill effects associated with it. Sleep and the recovery cycle are essential parts of the body’s healing and restoration process and reducing inflammation is a large part of this. Along with this, sleep is also shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It may not be enough to cure those with dangerous levels, but it can reduce the risk associated with these issues and help control them. Lastly, adequate sleep is actually shown to increase life expectancy. Those who received more sleep had demonstrably longer lives on average than those who were sleep deprived. In reality, you may not be giving up time for more sleep as you will be recovering it with a longer and healthier life.
The benefits extend beyond the physical to mental health as well. Studies have shown sleep to not only improve attention, obviously important for children and adults alike, but to also reduce hyperactivity and other symptoms commonly associated with ADHD. Children who receive enough sleep — the National Institute of Health recommends 10 for school age children — demonstrate higher marks in tests for attention and memory. They also show less impulsive behavior, behavior which if left unchecked can turn to behavior like fighting, alcohol, or even drug use. As a result of these benefits, students who do get enough sleep receive higher grades. Not only testing well, they also score higher on learning in general, better able to internalize and process information than those who don’t receive enough sleep.
In addition to higher performance in the classroom, those who receive enough sleep exhibit lower stress. This is likely due to an enhanced ability to process and handle stress due to stronger emotional aptitude. Recent research shows that sleep enhances the ability to process the raw emotional “hot” reactive thoughts and move on to the “cold” rational process, making it easier to handle stress and anxiety. Along with this, sleep assists in the ability to avoid or mitigate depression. For the same reasons that sleep helps process stress, it helps eliminate anxiety and reduces depression. Anxiety and depression are linked to so many other adverse health effects, especially for children and the parents of young children that any increased likelihood of avoiding it should be grasped. Anxiety and stress in parents not only cause short term issues with their children such as lower scholastic performance, insecurity, and increased risky behavior, but these can quickly turn into long term effects that harm children throughout their lives as well.
Last, but perhaps most important, is that lack of sleep is a huge cause of death and injury in the United States due to car accidents. Sleep deprivation is a higher cause of car accidents than alcohol and other substances. The effects of sleep deprivation are similar to the influence of substances, slower reaction speed, lower awareness, and general driving issues like staying in a lane, but a lack of sleep can actually reach critically dangerous levels of these with less noticeability than substances. Due to education campaigns, people generally know the risks of driving while impaired much better than those of driving while tired.
For all of these reasons, getting adequate sleep should be a top priority for anyone looking to live a happier, healthier, and higher quality life. In fact sleep may even lead to a longer life if some recent studies prove true. Sleep can help you reach your health and fitness goals and resolutions more effectively as well. Whether your goals are to improve yourself and your own life, or to be a better partner or parent, getting more sleep is a fundamental part of making those improvements. Set an example in 2017 and stop cutting sleep. Instead, treat it as the fundamental activity it is and prioritize it in your life like you might prioritize exercise or diet. Or if you are like the majority of Americans who break their resolutions by the end of January, treat it higher than those and make it the one thing you focus on because this one can lead to so many other good things for you. It’s time to make sleep a priority.