The Importance of Sleep on our lives

Updated: May 5, 2021

Get ready to change how you prioritise sleep.

In 2011 a study tracked more than half a million men and women of varying ages, races, and ethnicity across eight different countries, and how a lack of sleep affected them. Those who had less sleep were associated with a 45% increased risk of developing and/or dying from coronary heart disease within 7 - 25 years. A similar finding was found by a Japanese study of over 4000 working males, conducted over a 14-year period showing that those sleeping 6 hours or less, were 400% - 500% more likely to suffer one or more cardiac arrests. This study even accounted for the lifestyle factors that can contribute to cardiac arrests such as, smoking, lack of physical activity, and an increased body mass. Yet they still produced a 400-500% increase of risk.

This lack of sleep becomes even more dangerous when you approach midlife, when the body begins to deteriorate, a lack of sleep in this age group, results in a 200% increase in the likelihood of having a cardiac arrest.

Part of the reason why sleep affects the cardiovascular system so dramatically is the increase in blood pressure. As a society, we have forgotten just how deadly high blood pressure can be, nearly Seven million people die from blood pressure-related diseases such as strokes, kidney failure, and ischemic heart disease.

The leading culprit for this high blood pressure is the sympathetic nervous system, the system that operates the notorious 'Fight or Flight' response and controls the body’s chemical reactions, blood pressure, breathing, and even the immune system.

The sympathetic nervous system heightens all its structures, ready for ‘Fight or Flight’. However, when you do not get sufficient sleep, even for one night, the body's sympathetic nervous system becomes stuck, in the 'on' position.

The sympathetic nervous system is designed to be used for short periods of time, up to a few hours, not for an extended period, which is what happens when we miss out on sleep.

As an exercise, imagine over-revving a car engine. For an hour or so, it's able to cope, but now imagine over-revving the car engine for a year you may find that the engine starts to seize.

The sympathetic nervous system increases your blood pressure in two ways. 1. Simply, it increases the heart rate. 2. It releases cortisone, which narrows the blood vessels (Arteries, Veins, and Capillaries). This increase in blood pressure damages those blood vessels, which leads to atherosclerosis build-up in the blood vessels and leads to increased risk of Heart Attacks.

The body would normally use Human Growth Hormone (HGH) to repair this damage to the blood vessels, however, this is only released during our sleep, which we don’t get enough of. This sustained damage and lack of repair to the blood vessels is what results in heart attacks and strokes etc.

One of the greatest examples that can show you the significance of the above is when the Northern Hemisphere switches to Daylight Savings Time, where we lose an hour of sleep every year. When you compare this event in time with hospital admissions for heart attacks or strokes, you notice an alarming spike in these emergencies. Subsequently, you notice the opposite in Mid-August, when the clocks move backward, and we gain an hour’s sleep. The same can be seen in the number of car accidents during both times of the year.

Simply put, an hour less in the day equals less sleep and equals more admissions to the hospitals with heart attacks. An hour extra equals more sleep, and fewer hospital admissions.

So what happens when we consistently do get enough sleep?

It’s simple really, the horrible cascade of events written above stops. During deep sleep, specifically NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) our brain sends a signal to calm the Sympathetic branch of our nervous system, which quietens our heart rate, lessens our cortisol, and releases our HGH, meaning our blood pressure falls, and our body gets the opportunity to repair its blood vessels. All of which result in less chance of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, and ischemic heart disease, just to name a few.

How do we get better and more of it?

So how can we make changes to our daily lives to sleep better and get more sleep, to help us overcome this widespread epidemic?

Below are just 12 tips for healthy sleep, not everyone is going to be able to do all of the below, and everyone’s ‘Magic Bullet’ will be different, so don’t be frustrated if you don’t see immediate change.

Try some and if they don’t work, try the next.

12 Tips for Healthy Sleep

Stick to a sleep schedule (wake up and go to sleep at the same time)

Exercise is great for your overall health, but get it wrapped up 2-3 hours prior to sleep.

Avoid stimulants like caffeine and Nicotine, caffeine can take up to 8 hours to leave your system, and nicotine can cause you to only sleep lightly, and wake up early because of addiction.

Alcohol consumption robs you of your REM sleep and keeping you in the lighter stages of sleep.

Avoid eating large meals, this can cause indigestion and trouble your sleep.

Avoid any medicines that delay or disrupt sleep, common over-the-counter cold or allergies can disrupt your sleeping patterns.

No naps after 3 PM, naps are normally a great way of catching up on sleep but taken too late and they make it harder to fall asleep at night.

Relax before bed, schedule some time before bed to unwind and relax.

Remove distractions from the bedroom, bright lights, or noises can distract us from sleep, especially phones and TV’s so removing them or not using them for 30 mins before bed helps you ready yourself before bed.

Take a bath, the warmth of the bath helps to relax you, and the temperature drop after getting out of the bath will help you to feel sleepy.

Use natural sun exposure to help you wake up and get to sleep. Spending 30 mins outside helps you regulate your sleeping pattern, when waking up, use bright lights, and when sleeping, turn the lights down low to help you regulate your sleeping patterns.

Don’t lie in bed awake, if you are awake for more than 20 mins, get up and perform a relaxing activity, until you feel more tired. The anxiety of not falling asleep can make it harder to fall asleep.

In conclusion, not getting enough sleep is detrimental, to say the least, the bodies natural pathway to healing is activated during deep sleep, so not getting enough or a good enough quality of sleep is not enough to repair the damage of the day, or of the damage caused by the lack of sleep in the first place. The right amount of sleep helps us to be well and even thrive through every possible biological pathway you can imagine, to name a few; memory, blood pressure, less risk of developing cancer, less risk of diabetes, and the list can go on.

There really is no argument for having less sleep.

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