“You can sleep when you’re dead.” If you are living by this old (misguided) adage, I would advise you to seriously consider rethinking your current lifestyle.
I am reading Matt Richtel’s interesting study on the past hundred years of research in the field of Immunology, titled “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System.” He has some compelling insights regarding sleep and its far-reaching effects on your life.
Sleep is a powerful and important part of your overall health. When you sleep, your body flushes out toxins from your brain. Some of the benefits of sleep include: improved memory, cognition, and mood, less inflammation. Reduced inflammation is an important benefit that affects the immune system.
Additionally, sleep problems predict death. People who experience prolonged sleep disturbance are more likely to die and die earlier than people who don’t. They mirror the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle, obesity and depression.
Roughly 25% of Americans suffer from sleep problems and insomnia is the most ubiquitous complaint among psychiatric populations. Seven hours of sleep has been found to be the optimum amount of sleep needed for adults and four and a half hours of sleep or less puts adults at an increased risk of death. There is also an increased risk for people sleeping more than eight and a half hours. Richtel and the doctors he interviewed for his book, believe that people reporting to sleeping more than eight and a half hours, may spend more time in bed, however, could still be only getting a few hours of sleep.
The effect of sleep on the immune system is a critical link driving the risk to a person’s longevity. The sympathetic response, i.e. the fight-or-flight response, has a powerful impact on heart rate, blood pressure, the flow of digestive juices, and other core involuntary functions.
When we sleep the system slows markedly and the activation of norepinephrine and epinephrine turn off. When we don’t sleep, that activation continues at daytime levels. Sleep deprivation causes a decrease in natural killer cells to the same level of those who are depressed or stressed, and adrenaline dampens the effect of our immune systems. People who don’t sleep are more likely to develop cancer, heart disease and depression.
The vicious cycle with stress, sleep and your immune system goes like this: You become stressed, you don’t sleep and your immune system is dampened. The cycle spirals creating more stress, less sleep, and your immune system becomes further run down. Then you are more susceptible to debilitating viruses that can lead to life-threatening disease.
Leading immunologists recommend you sleep until you aren’t tired anymore. Sleep is the easiest medicine to regulate. A single night of sleep negatively alters your immune system throwing things out of whack.
You can’t blame disease on a lack of sleep or the stress you are under, sometimes disease just happens, but your sleep and regulating stress is a major way you can contribute to improving your overall health long-term.
You can buy a copy of Matt Richtel’s book, “An Elegant Defense” on Amazon via the link here.
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