The Importance of Sleep
Part 1 of 3

Fred often goes to bed at 9:00 and gets up at 4:00.  Wow!  Talk about early to bed and early to rise…. good for him, right?  Well…not really.  Not when you learn that it’s 9:00 AM when he’s going to bed and 4:00 PM when he’s getting up! You might think Fred works the nightshift, but he doesn’t.   He has some serious underlying problems when it comes to proper sleep.

Your relationship with sleep probably isn’t as messed up as Fred’s.  But it may need some improvement.  And if it does, you’re probably well aware of it.  After all, it’s pretty obvious you need more sleep (or better sleep) when you hit the snooze button several times before actually dragging yourself out of bed.  Falling asleep at your desk in the middle of the day also indicates pretty clearly that you’re lacking adequate sleep.  You might feel cranky, lose control of emotions more easily, or act sillier than usual, depending on your personality. 

According to a 2013 survey conducted by The Better Sleep Council, roughly half of all Americans do not get enough sleep, and yet less than half of these folks take any specific action to correct the problem. 

So if you’re one of these people, why haven’t you fixed your sleeping situation? 

Staying Up Till All Hours… What’s your excuse?

  • The Busy Bee

“I have so much to do during the week.  I can’t afford to get more sleep.  There simply isn’t enough time.  But I’ll catch up on the weekend, so I’m okay, right?”  Maybe not…  Can you really catch up on lost sleep? 

  • The Social Butterfly

“I know I sit up too late, but spending time with family and friends is important. If I didn’t hang out with them after working hard all day, I’d go nuts.  At least I need to check out everyone’s status on Facebook and see who’s available to chat.  I have to stay in touch, you know.”

  • The Solitary Cat

“Sometimes I really have to finish the movie I’m watching.  Or I may get wrapped up in my digital adventures on Skyrim.  But, hey, I deserve to have some personal relaxation time, don’t I?  Night time is the only time I’ve got for just doing my own thing.”  

  • The Night Owl

“I seem to come alive at night.  It’s my creative time.  I’m more productive when it’s dark and no one else is up.  When I can, I’ll just sleep later the next morning.”   Maybe you do tend to get more done at night.  But is this just a habit you have cultivated?   Will “sleeping in” the next morning make up for lost hours of sleep?  Can you change?  Do you want to change?

  • The Wide-Eyed Deer

Maybe you really can’t control your loss of sleep.  Some people can’t.  Remember poor Fred?  If you have underlying problems or circumstances that make sleep deprivation unavoidable, you’d probably fix your situation immediately if you could.  Maybe you’re a new parent, for example, awakened by the baby every two hours.  Perhaps your job requires you to work the nightshift.  Or maybe you’ve got a physical condition, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or a hormonal disturbance, that keeps you up at night.

Is Your Loss of Sleep Worth It?

Your body can usually rebound from the occasional sleepless night.   But if you’re losing sleep on a regular basis, you need to reconsider your habits or address the underlying problem.  Regardless of your reason, the consequences of losing sleep regularly can be far more serious than an irritable mood or a temporary lack of energy.

Dr. Mark Wiley, a renowned mind-body health practitioner and author writes in a recent issue of the online newsletter Easy Health Options:  “There are more than two dozen health risks associated with lack of sound sleep. And it only takes about a week of disrupted sleep to negatively affect one’s gene activity.”

Consider the following risks of sleep deprivation:

  • Sacrificing Your Immunity

Dr. Rubin Naiman, clinical psychologist and author of Hush: A Book of Bedtime Contemplations, focuses his work on sleep and its relationship to health.  Energy is released from the body as you sleep, he explains in an interview published on  The rest of the energy “is directed toward maintenance of the body.” 

One of these maintenance tasks focuses on building your immune system.  If you lack quality or quantity of deep sleep, says Dr. Naiman, your body doesn’t have a chance to complete its maintenance, which leaves your immune system weakened.  Weakened immunity leads to chronic inflammation and an increased risk of viral infection as well as of major diseases such as cancer, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases.

  • Weight Loss Dilemma

If you’re having trouble losing weight, pay attention to your sleeping schedule.  Studies have shown that a lack of sleep makes it far more difficult to drop those extra pounds. 

It seems that the opposite might be true, doesn’t it?  After all, the more hours you are awake, the more you’re moving around and burning energy.  But restricting sleep may actually sabotage your weight-loss efforts, concluded researchers at the University of Chicago.  Their study involving 12 healthy men showed that just two days of sleep restriction significantly increases hunger and appetite. 

This evidence makes sense when you understand two hormones that regulate hunger and appetite, explains New York Times best-selling author, Dr. Joseph Mercola. Sleep deprivation disturbs the proper balance of both ghrelin and leptin, leaving you with an increased appetite and food cravings—not the best situation for optimum weight loss!

  • A Shrinking Brain

Bad news here:

A recent study published in the journal Neurology found that “poor sleep quality may be a cause…of brain atrophy.”  In other words, if you continue losing sleep over time, your brain begins to lose cells and to shrink.

You can see why decreased concentration, foggy thinking, impaired learning, lowered reaction times, and bad judgment have all been linked to inadequate sleep.  As a result, the consequences of poor sleep include more accidents on the road, low productivity on the job, and poor academic performance.

Recent evidence shows that sleep deprivation may even hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, due to the brain damage caused by the loss of cells.

  • Emotional Breakdown

Have you noticed that you lose control of your emotions more easily after a sleepless night?  Maybe you tend to argue more with your spouse or co-workers, to get angry over small matters, or (if you’re female) to cry over a burned meat loaf.  Perhaps you tend to stress out if your five minutes late or to dip into a depression when your friend forgets to call.

Emotional symptoms often do have other sources such as hormonal imbalances or the stresses of major life events.  But even if these symptoms’ origins had little to do with sleep, the lack of sleep certainly makes them worse.

Poor sleepers tend to perceive life’s stressful events in a more negative light.  “It’s hard to heal and address emotional issues when you’re tired” says Dr. Naiman.

  • Major Memory Lapse

Don’t you hate being awakened in the middle of a good dream?  So does your brain!

The two most important stages of sleep, notes Dr. Naiman, are deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, also referred to as dream sleep.  Dreaming has a different function than sleep itself, according to Naiman, and dream deprivation in particular reduces memory function.

Many Americans are dream deprived, says Naiman, because dreaming usually occurs in the last third of the night.  When you wake up artificially, with an alarm clock, for example, “you’re snipping off the ends of dreams—night after night.”  As a result, your brain doesn’t get to finish its work.

As you dream, your brain digests all of the information from the day.  Dr. Naiman likens this process to the digestion of food and compares your brain to your gut, which keeps and processes some of the food for nourishment, and discards the rest as waste material.  Likewise, your brain assimilates and sifts through the information, deciding what to discard and what to keep.  This information shows up metaphorically in dreams.  When this process gets cut short, says Naiman, “it has a profoundly negative impact on your memory. In a deeper sense, it's as if you stopped growing psychologically. You stopped adding to who you are." 

  • Getting Old Before Your Time

Do you ever wake up feeling stiff, sore, or forcing yourself to move—feeling like your body just doesn’t want to cooperate?  In short, you feel old.  It could be because, instead of rejuvenating as it should, your body is losing youthful qualities overnight!  

If you like to keep up with the latest health news, you’ve probably heard about HGH, Human Growth Hormone, which, in adults, promotes the growth of muscle and the breakdown of fats, according to Dr. Mercola in his book, Take Control of Your Health.  Your body produces HGH naturally during deep sleep, and a lack of it encourages premature aging. 

So, if you’re not sleeping well, you could end up seeing wrinkles and gray hair in the mirror or losing muscle mass before your time has really come.

Why You Can’t Make Up For Lost Time

  • Time-Stealers

If you feel more productive at night, or sit up to get more done, you may be cheating yourself. Many people try to “steal time,” says Naiman, because they put more importance on their waking time than on their sleeping time.  But if you try to be more productive by stealing time from your sleep and adding it to your waking hours, you’ll probably just reduce your productivity in the long run.  Adequate sleep actually improves your productivity during the day.

And what about “sleeping in”?  Can’t you catch up on sleep over the weekend?  Not really, says Dr. Mercola.  For those who habitually stay up late during the week, the “health hazards are compounding…. Sleeping in on the weekends is not going to undo the damage being done,” writes Mercola.  Although you may experience a feeling of refreshment and a surge of energy after sleeping in, “the mental benefit is temporary….A chronic lack of high-quality sleep simply cannot be recovered.”

  • Disturbing Your Inner Clock

Does it really make a difference what time you hit the sack as long as you sleep the right number of hours?  Actually, it does. 

Sleep experts seem to agree that optimal healing and rejuvenation occur during the hours of 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM.  Some health professionals extend the suggested hours to 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM for the most regenerative sleep.  During these hours, your body’s systems recharge, cleanse, and repair themselves, particularly the adrenal glands and the gall bladder. 

Your body knows what it’s doing and when it needs to do it.  Don’t disturb its natural timing by messing up your sleep schedule on purpose!

  • Darkness Makes a Difference

If you try to make up for lost sleep by snoozing during daylight hours, you might gain a little extra energy and alertness.  But you’ll be losing the benefits of sleeping entirely in the dark. 

As the sun goes down and nighttime falls, your body begins to produce melatonin, a hormone necessary for restful sleep.  In addition to inducing sleepiness, melatonin provides immune system support, brain protection, and a strong defense against the development of cancer. 

But your body can’t reap all of these benefits without sufficient sleep in the dark.  As soon as light hits your eyes, whether daylight or electric light, melatonin production ceases. Even the light from digital clocks, notes Dr. Naiman, can “trickle across your eyelids,” hindering proper production. 

  • Please Do Not Disturb

Kaitlyn’s a light sleeper, waking up at the slightest noise or disturbance. When she has a wakeful night, she simply hits the snooze button on her alarm clock several times the next morning to make up for it.   She figures she’s getting enough sleep overall, so she doesn’t worry about it.  But she’s always just as cranky as if she’d gotten up earlier.

A recent study published in the July 2014 issue of Sleep Medicine concluded that a night of interrupted sleep has the same negative effects as sleep restriction.  In the study, one group of people slept four hours, uninterrupted, while one group stayed in bed eight hours, but experienced several interruptions of sleep.  Evidence from the study shows that either way you lose sleep, whether through shortened hours or interruptions during the night, will produce similar negative effects—more “depression, fatigue, and confusion,” and reduced amounts of energy. 

So, quality sleep doesn’t depend solely on total number of hours.  Try to plan for solid sleep with no disturbances.

So You Think You’re Getting Enough?

Maybe you’ve disregarded all of the above information because you think you’re getting enough sleep already.

“I perform better on just five or six hours of sleep,” claims Tom.  But Tom, as well as 30% of Americans, may be fooling himself, according to a report by Fatigue Science, an organization that “provides the world’s most advanced fatigue measurement technology.” 

According to this organization’s studies, surviving on six hours of sleep or less each night (as many Americans do) produces similar decreased performance levels and reaction times as staying up for 24 hours straight.  You would certainly notice a difference in your work performance after staying up all night, wouldn’t you?

So why doesn’t Tom realize that his sleep deficit is hindering his performance?  The professionals at Fatigue Science call this phenomenon “renorming.”  “We are only able to compare how we feel today to how we felt yesterday or the day before.”  As a result, someone like Tom doesn’t even notice the signs of sleep deprivation, because negative changes in things such as productivity, performance, and reaction time take place gradually.  Tom simply adapts to those changes, never realizing that he’s suffering from a lack of adequate sleep.

If you’re like Tom, stop fooling yourself.

Are you convinced to make the effort to go to bed on time or to address what seem like unavoidable sleep disturbances?  Whether your sleep deprivation comes from bad habits or from underlying conditions, don’t waste any more time. Begin your efforts now to overcome your sleep obstacles.

Read part 2 of Time for Bed. Discover tips for getting better sleep and for establishing and maintaining your sleep routine. Plus, find out the real reasons for Fred’s wacky sleeping schedule!

Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg


Part 2:
Time for Bed

Part 3:
Five Dream Stealers 

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A healthy outside starts from the inside. Robert Urich