As mammals, sleep is absolutely central to our way of life. Our bodies react to the changing daylight hours, and make us feel awake, or sleepy, correspondingly. In fact, it is so important to our lifestyles that it is possible, though rare, for severe sleep deprivation to have fatal consequences. But far from these extremes, sleep is integral to many of our functions, and the slightest flaw in the duration or quality of the sleep we get can have considerable effects on our performance and wellbeing, physical, mental and emotional.
Without sleep of adequate quality and quantity, our bodies do not have what they need to perform to their fullest potential. In the short-term, this could manifest in any number of different ways. Physical weakness, shaking and blurred vision impede performance on a day-to-day basis, but continued sleep deprivation can cause some serious chronic health problems.
Lack of quality sleep damages the immune system, leading to susceptibility to various illnesses and infections, and significantly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.
Sleep is crucial to our mental strength and cognitive function. Even an hour’s less sleep a day can make big differences to mental performance. Concentration and basic decision-making and problem-solving suffer, and in severe cases, hallucinations can occur. This impairment of brain activity causes difficulty in everyday situations like work or schooling, but during activities like driving, crossing roads or machinery operation, the slightest lapse in reaction or judgement can result in serious injury or even death. It is under such circumstances that poor quality sleep increases risk of accidental death. According to research from Harvard, fewer than five hours sleep per night can result in an average of 15% higher likelihood of death from all causes.
The extent to which emotional troubles can be soothed by sleep is impressive. It is often an early recommendation for sufferers of all sorts of emotional and mental issues. Problems such as depression, mood swings and anxiety are aggravated by poor sleep, and susceptibility to trips, falls and other accidents are likely to cause something of a vicious emotional cycle.
Improved sleep has the further advantages of boosting sex drive and fertility, and increased leptin levels, the chemical that makes us feel full up, meaning sleep even helps you to manage your weight. The many physical rewards of better sleep have a knock-on effect on emotional wellbeing; improving sleep is key to establishing a more content and peaceful state of being.
Your personal comfort is most important when it comes to creating the perfect sleeping environment. Ensure you put nice clean sheets on regularly, and are comfortable with your pillow and duvet choice. If your mattress is over eight years old, it is probably time to treat yourself to a new one. In the meantime, occasionally flipping your mattress over can improve the firmness and feel of your bed. Find an arrangement that works best for you, and make getting more sleep an appealing life improvement.