The Importance of Sleep


By Good Night Consultant


The average person sleeps for almost a third of his/her life. Yet, in today’s society, sleep is often seen as unproductive time and everyone, from teenagers to adults, generally sleeps three hours less than people in the 1960s due to modern society’s daily demands.

Sleep affects our productivity at work, when we study and how efficiently we interact with other people. Sleep increases concentration, attention, decision-making, creativity, social skills, emotional well-being and physical health, while decreasing mood changes, stress, anger and impulsiveness.

Good sleeping habits should be taught from birth. Research has indicated that children who struggle to sleep develop into adults with deficient sleep habits. A mistake many new parents make is to think that it is their duty to sooth their baby to sleep. Rather, falling asleep unaided is a skill that a child must develop on its own, from infancy.

It is therefore of the utmost importance to help children develop sound sleep habits from an young age to ensure success at school, as well as in their social interactions and, ultimately, later in life.

There are two basic types of sleep (rapid eye movement (“REM”) and non-REM) that occur in a regular pattern of 3 to 5 cycles each night. Humans function optimally if they receive the correct amount of sleep, enough of each type of sleep and when they go to sleep at a time when their bodies are ready to sleep.

There are various theories explaining the reasons humans need to sleep. The most plausible reasons are:

• Restoration: Some scientists believe it is an important biological restoration process.

• Healthy brain function: Sleep improves learning and helps the brain commit information to memory. The brain uses sleep for consolidation and information processing. A tired mind cannot learn new tasks. Sleep results in memory conservation, problem solving, innovative solutions and enhanced creativity, while a lack of sleep results in poor memory, increased impulsiveness and poor judgement.

The following health problems have been linked to sleep disorders:

• Obesity: Tiredness has been linked to obesity due to increased levels of the hunger hormone, Ghrelin, and the way in which the body processes and stores carbohydrates.

• Sustained stress levels: Sleep loss can lead to sustained high stress levels, which in turn can lead to memory loss, high blood pressure, strokes and cardiovascular disease (heart failure and heart disease).

• Suppressed immune system: Tiredness can suppress your immune system, resulting in increased overall infection. For example, research has shown that night shift workers have increased risk of cancer.

• Diabetes: Lack of sleep can result in increased glucose levels, ultimately leading to diabetes.

• Mental health, depression and mental illnesses.

• Attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

But all hope is not lost. The following easy steps could improve your sleep habits:

• Make time for sleep, irrespective of your daily demands; do not cut back on your sleep time.

• Go to bed at the same time every night.

• Make your bedroom an haven for sleep: cool, quiet and dark.

• Do not drink any caffeine after lunch and cut back on nicotine intake in the afternoon.

• Establish a bedtime ritual (for example, taking a relaxing bath followed by reading a book).

• Avoid using the television, computer tablets, computers and cell phones shortly before bedtime.

• Dim the lights early.

For prolonged insomnia in adults, research has indicated that hypnosis can help insomniacs to observe proper sleep routines by developing new, specific behaviours that can help one get a good night’s sleep.

So before you try the next diet, or extra study lessons, or an expensive motivational course, or studying through the night before a big test, get to bed a little earlier! Sleep yourself to success, whether it is to lose weight, experience achievements in the workplace or at school or to sustainably improve your health.