Being Tired is a Hunger and Sleep is the Food
The most obvious benefit of a good night’s sleep is not being tired in the morning. However, this is a lot like saying that the main benefit of eating is not being hungry after. Being tired and being hungry are more than just regular inconveniences, they are the body’s way of letting you know that something is out of balance, and that it needs to be fixed. The desire to sleep is just as powerful as the desire to eat because sleeping is just as important to the body’s overall health as eating is.
That said, people are far more likely to skip out on sleep when they are tired than they are to skip out on food when they are hungry. This attitude toward sleep is the result of a lack of knowledge about the exact benefits of a good night’s sleep. The science behind nutrition is light-years ahead of the science behind sleep, so it is hard for people to understand exactly how much sleep they should be getting and why. However, there does exist some good research on sleep. Below is an outline of the main benefits of a good night’s sleep, to help you understand why sleeping well is just as important as eating well.
Your mental ability is your brain’s capacity to perform the regular thinking tasks that you need to get through the day. People simply do not work at their best when they have not had enough sleep, and their ability to think through problems and make decisions is severely reduced. Being tired mostly affects attention to detail, the ability to solve problems, and reasoning, which are all important parts of the human decision-making process. Even 1 or 2 hours of extra sleep can lead to substantial differences in the ability to perform mental tasks.
Another important part of mental ability is the control of emotions and behavior. People who do not get enough sleep are more vulnerable to mood-swings and inappropriate behavior, as the ability to recognize a change in thinking and adjust is reduced by a lack of sleep. A healthy state of mind involves a lot of constant adjustments to keep your mental activity balanced, so being tired reduces your awareness and control of what is going on with your emotions and behavior. Long-term sleep deficiency has been linked to serious emotional and behavioral problems such as depression, risk-taking behavior and even suicide.
Overall Bodily Health
While people may consider the brain’s ability to think as the main benefit from a good night’s sleep, sleep is just as important for the rest of the body as well. Sleep affects every part of the human body, including growth and stress hormones, appetite, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and the immune system. Without proper sleep, the body does not have the opportunity to regulate itself, and serious health complications can arise from the resulting imbalances. Sleep plays a big role in the regulation of the hormones involved in eating. Due to the lower energy levels from lack of sleep, the body over-compensates by producing more hormones that drive hunger. Therefore, tired people feel hungrier than they really are when what they actually need is sleep. Lack of sleep can quickly lead to nutritional issues from improper eating habits. The human immune system also relies on getting proper rest. The immune system is constantly fighting off infections that are attacking the body, and it requires regular periods of rest to regulate its activity. A lowered immune system from a lack of sleep will make you more vulnerable to infections.
Learning and Memory
The connection between sleep and learning and memory is just starting to be understood. Scientists do not understand exactly how sleep helps us to learn new things and form memories, but studies in both animals and humans have proven that there is a strong connection. The research suggests the the connection may work in two ways. The first way is by allowing the brain to focus on the information at hand. The second way is by creating the opportunity for what is called “consolidation” by scientists. Consolidation is the process where information that the brain has acquired becomes stable memory that can be retrieved later, instead of information that is used and then forgotten. Therefore, sleep is important because it allows you to focus on the information needed for learning when you are awake and it allows time for the brain to consolidate information into memory when you are asleep.
Personal Safety and Accident Avoidance
The last benefit of a good night’s sleep is from the ability to react quickly to dangerous situations. Unlike decision-making and learning, where people spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the problem, sleeping affects our brain’s ability to maintain reflexes and reactions over very small amounts of time. A lack of sleep can lead to what is known as “microsleep”, where the brain automatically shuts down for brief moments while you are awake and active. Microsleep is usually experienced as brief moments where people suddenly “wake up” without realizing exactly how they got where they are.
Microsleep can be incredibly dangerous when driving or performing complex and hazardous tasks. A brief loss of attention or reduced reaction time can be the difference between life and death. Studies show that being drowsy can actually be worse than being drunk when it comes to reflexes and quick-thinking. Drowsiness is estimated to be responsible for over 100,000 car accidents and 1,500 deaths each year.
Feed Your Head
These benefits to a good night’s sleep show why it is so important to get under your bed sheets and keep yourself well-rested. Being tired is more than just an annoyance, it impacts your mental ability, your health, your ability to learn, and your safety. Being well-rested means performing at your best no matter what life throws your way, so feed your hunger for sleep with a good night’s rest, and wake up each morning ready to take on the day.
- The Benefits of Slumber. (April, 2013). Retrieved from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/apr2013/feature1
- Benefits of Sleep. (December 18, 2007). Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep
- Why Is Sleep Important. (February 22, 2013). Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why