Our hectic lives can often be the greatest barrier to a proper night's rest, yet very little is more important to our ability to both ably function through the day, and lead the best quality of life that we can. As we've seen before here on the Green Blog, even the lighting in our home can damage our ability to sleep, throwing our bodies' natural circadian rhythms into disarray. Yet making the effort to sleep enough, and to get the best quality of rest that we can, has the potential to impact nearly every aspect of the way we go about our daily lives.
Proper sleep effects your physical and mental health, as well as your emotional well-being, governing even the way you interact with the world around you. In terms of physical health, lack of sleep has been connected to a variety of diseases. Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy, as it is during this phase of the day that your body is able to repair any damage or stress it has suffered. Sleep deficiency has been connected to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke, and plays a large statistical role in obesity. Proper sleep regulates the body's hormones, maintaining the appropriate balances required for it to function. One of these hormones is insulin, which regulates a person's blood glucose (sugar) level. Improper insulin levels can lead to a pre-diabetic state, eventually morphing into the full disease. Another of these hormones, triggered during deep sleep, signals the body's tissues to grow, repairing themselves as we rest.
Mental and emotional health are closely tied to proper sleep as well. As the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute relates, sleep is absolutely essential for proper brain function. Adequate amounts of sleep have been shown to support the ability to learn and to improve memory, while fostering creativity and heightening our attentiveness. Sleep aids our decision making capabilities, as well as enabling our problem-solving skills.
A deficiency of sleep, on the other hand, turns all of these benefits on their head, while having drastic effects on our emotional health. You know how you feel after a lousy night of sleep, irritable, quick to snap and possibly even angry. Continued sleep deprivation normalizes these emotional traits, until we no longer understand how badly we feel. Sleep deficient individuals have been shown to take more risks, have higher levels of depression, and are more likely to develop suicidal thoughts. Living this way predisposes you to mood swings and impulsive behaviors, directly effecting the way you interact with others around you and the way they perceive you.
Sleep deprivation can also be dangerous. Have you ever heard of microsleep? Many people haven't, but the odds are you've experienced it. If you've ever drifted off in the middle of a lecture and forgotten what was said, or felt like you missed the point, you may have experienced microsleep, while totally unaware of it. Microsleep is, quite simply, the brief moments of sleep that will occur when you are normally awake. You can't control microsleep, and in many cases, people aren't even aware that it happens. Pair this occurrence with driving or the operation of heavy machinery, and you have a recipe for disaster. Many of us have experienced a moment while driving where we forget a part of our trip, and this can be an instance of microsleep as well. Nearly 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths, are estimated to be attributable to driver fatigue, a statistic that shows more sharply than any other the importance of a proper night's rest.
When it comes to quality of sleep, our beds are often another roadblock standing in the way of a peaceful rest. Chemically laden, fire-retardant mattresses pose their own unique health risks, as we've discussed before on this blog, and while there is no substitute for the proper amount of sleep, quality of rest is closely tied to the regenerative health functions associated with it. If you're interested in fostering a healthier sleep environment for yourself, renewable alternatives such as wool and latex offer measurable benefits, such as natural fire-retardants (eliminating chemical coatings), and increased support and comfort.
The need for proper rest effects our bodies and our daily lives more than almost any other factor. By taking steps to support and foster this requirement, we can make another resolution this year, to improve our quality of life dramatically. Make sleep a priority in your day, and you'll likely find that all of your other resolutions are that much easier to keep, freeing you to support your health all year long.