Sleep | What is Insomnia? Plus the Top 5 Things Sleep Does for Our Bodies

Sleep | What is Insomnia? Plus the Top 5 Things Sleep Does for Our Bodies

How many hours of sleep did you get last night?

How about the night before?

We all have nights where we can’t seem to quiet our brain, every noise seems like a scream, or there is no way to find a comfortable position, that’s normal. But what happens when those nights become more frequent than those where you drift comfortably off to sleep and wake up refreshed 8 hours later?

In this 2 part series we’ll talk about just that. In this first part, we’ll define what it means to have “good sleep” and what insomnia, along with the benefits that come with truly good sleep.

What is Good Sleep?

It’s best to start by defining what qualifies as “good sleep” so that we know what we’re striving for when we talk about insomnia.

The truth is, good sleep is different for everyone. Some people function optimally at 6 hours a night and some people need 10. It depends on things like your diet and lifestyle, how many times you wake up in a night, how you dream, how long it takes you to fall asleep, the quality of sleep, and the time you spend in REM sleep.

This is what the Sleep Foundation says constitutes “good sleep”:

  • Falling asleep within 15-20 minutes of lying down
  • Regularly sleeping a total of seven to nine hours in a 24-hour period
  • Sleep is continuous throughout the night
  • Feeling refreshed upon waking
  • Feeling alert and able to be fully productive throughout the waking hours
  • No disturbing behavior while you sleep like snoring, sleep apnea, restlessness, or other sleep time behaviors.

If you’re not experiencing all of these, it’s possible that you’re working with some sleep issues, or even insomnia.

What is Insomnia?

In the simplest definition, insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

People that experience insomnia are dissatisfied with the sleep they are getting and can suffer from “fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school,” (sleep foundation) increased inflammation, chronic opportunistic illness, weight gain and more.

It’s natural to experience a sleepless night every once in awhile, but chronic insomnia is more prevalent that you might think. Longitudinal studies show that around 70% of people suffer from chronic insomnia for at least one year during their lifetime and around 40% of people suffer from insomnia for 3 or more years.

5 Reasons Why Good Sleep is Crucial for Health

There is a never-ending list of benefits to getting a good night’s rest. Here are the top 5 reasons for focusing on getting good sleep.

1—Concentration and Comprehension

If you stay up all night with your friends how likely are you to be able to perform well at work the next day? Not very likely. The brain absorbs a lot of information while we are awake and it needs a chance to rest and reorganize that information—that happens while we’re sleeping. If you’re losing sleep, your brain can’t catch up with itself, it gets overworked, leading to confusion and brain fog.

2—Heart Health

Consider that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. What if I told you that getting better sleep could help change the statistic. Studies show that poor sleep is highly correlated to cardiovascular disease.

It doesn’t end there though, poor sleep is also directly corresponds to other issues surrounding heart health problems like sugar metabolism, high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiac arrest.

3—Changes in Metabolism and Hormones

Our bodies rest and restore while we sleep and if the sleep cycle is consistently interrupted, metabolism does not have a chance to stabilize. Everything from not releasing leptin, the appetite suppressing hormone that tells the body when it is satiated, to not properly storing or using carbohydrates is caused by lack of sleep.

Lack of sleep is stressful on the body and is specifically correlated to an increase of the stress hormone cortisol. While the body doesn’t create substances that are inherently bad, stress hormones are made for acute issues, not lasting problems.

Along with other hormonal effects, cortisol is an antagonist to insulin, the blood sugar stabilizing hormone, and can derail metabolic processes by making the body more insulin resistant along with changing the body’s ability to burn fat. Paired with increased insulin, cortisol actually stimulates fat storage so weight gain and issues surrounding sugar imbalance is common with lack of sleep.

4—Immune System Support

Along with restoring, our bodies fight off illness best while we’re asleep. Not getting enough rest can allow opportunistic diseases to take hold in the body that we would otherwise be able to fend off.

Sleep’s role in deep immune activation may also have a significant effect on chronic inflammatory conditions, healthy sleep patterns can curb inflammation in the body but problems sleeping can increase inflammatory issues.

5—Beauty

If heart health, hormonal imbalance, and the immune system don’t convince you to put “getting a good night’s rest” at the top of your to-do list, maybe this will: beauty sleep. It’s a cute thing that fabulous people say in the movies, but it is so real. Bags under your eyes, wrinkles, redness and puffiness in your face, and early aging are all signs of sleep deprivation.

Sleep now, my pretty.

In part two, we’ll talk about lifestyle, diet, and herbal suggestions that can help you get the optimal amount of sleep for your body.

What do you notice about a good night’s sleep? Let us know in the comments below.


References:

  1. What is Healthy Sleep? (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2016, from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/what-healthy-sleep
  2. What Is Insomnia? (2016). Retrieved June 15, 2016, from https://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/content/what-is-insomnia
  3. S. (2016). Good sleep habits and heart health. Retrieved June 15, 2016, from http://uofmhealthblogs.org/cardiovascular/good-sleep-habits-and-heart-health/14917/
  4. Six for 2006: Six reasons not to scrimp on sleep. (2006, January). Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.tamaqua.k12.pa.us/cms/lib07/PA01000119/Centricity/Domain/108/sleep.pdf
  5. Ranjbaran, Z., L. Keefer, E. Stepanski, A. Farhadi, and A. Keshavarzian. "The Relevance of Sleep Abnormalities to Chronic Inflammatory Conditions." Inflamm. Res. Inflammation Research 56.2 (2007): 51-57. Web.
  6. Gavin, K. (2013). Sleep better, look better? New research says yes. Retrieved June 15, 2016, from http://uofmhealthblogs.org/neurohealth/sleep-better/8196/

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