Cancel that trip to an ashram in Nepal and stop your annual subscription to “What does it all mean?” magazine – I have the secret of happiness for you right here, it isn’t complicated and it won’t cost you a small fortune to find.
What is it? Get more sleep. It’s a simple as that.
We all know that feeling after we have had a good unbroken night’s sleep. We feel incredible. Invincible even. We bound out of bed and suddenly the world is our oyster instead of our burden.
But do you know just how good sleep is for you, really?
If not, read on below and I am going to fill you in on just why sleep matters, and why getting more of it will make you happier, healthier and basically better at everything you do…
Why Sleep Matters?
Lying still and vulnerable for a third of the day is, from the perspective of evolutionally survival, a pretty stupid thing to do! It leaves us vulnerable to all manner of attack.
So why do all humans and almost all animals engage in it? Presumably because something happens while we sleep that we unconscionably know is worth taking the risk every day of having a tiger sneak up on us.
Sleep is when we recharge our batteries. You probably knew that but what you may not realise is the extent of this process. Muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during our sleep.
Basically without sleep we wouldn’t be in a physical position to escape from danger at any stage, day or night.
Our bodies are truly amazing things. We mistreat them all day long and yet all night they work hard to replenish and rejuvenate themselves and get ready for the next day while we lie their drooling and snoring into our pillows. Lucky us!
And it is not just our bodies that are hard at work preparing for the next day, sleep is vital for our cognitive performance.
During the day, as our neurons work away they produce a chemical offshoot known as adenosine. As it builds up we begin to feel drowsy. Good quality sleep flushes adenosine from our brain allowing us to wake up feeling alert.
Then when we are in the land of nod dreaming of lost loves, our brains are busy processing the events of the day passed, rerunning them, ordering them, deciding what is important, jettisoning what is considered useless information and cataloguing the rest.
This process is known to science as ‘consolidation’. It’s how we make new lasting memories and it is essential for our ability to learn anything new.
To find out more about why sleep matters, check out what the experts have to say over at the Sleep Advisor site.
How sleep benefits our health?
The best way to look at how good sleep benefits our health is to look at the long list of conditions that are made worse when we aren’t sleeping well.
Study after study has shown that chronic sleep deprivation increases the chances of having a stroke, suffering from heart attacks and heart diseases, becoming obese, developing diabetes or becoming depressed.
Quality sleep on the other hand gives your immune system an almighty boost. This not only helps you to recover from sickness more quickly, it means you far less likely to even fall ill in the first place. Amazing!
How sleep benefits our wellbeing?
There is a strong, and well studied, link between poor sleep and poor mental health. Those who sleep badly are more likely to suffer from issues such as depression and anxiety, and those with depression and anxiety are less likely to sleep. An unfortunate cycle.
Chronic poor sleep has even been connected to a higher rate of death by suicide. Jeez!
Good sleep on the other hand us feeling positive and gives us better control over our emotions.
The reason, well, if you’d allow me to get a bit sciencey for a moment, is to do with the amygdala.
The amygdala is the emotional centre of the brain, how it responds to stimulus is controlled by the prefrontal cortex. Well-rested brain scans have shown the connections between the two work smoothly, when tired these connections often get interrupted.
So much so that the amygdala is 60% more reactive when you’ve had a bad sleep. Hence the mood swings and irritability.
Gone are the days when it was seen as cool to burn the candle at both ends. Sleep my friend, is the new black.
This doesn’t mean you have to curled up in bed with a hot water bottle by 8pm every night missing out the hottest gig. Of course not!
But it does mean you should treat your sleep patterns with respect. The return on investment will be well worth it. Both in terms of your mental and physical happiness.