Wonderful sleep. We often think as sleep as our time to shut down and reboot. But did you know that it is during sleep that we are extremely active? It is during sleep that a lot of important processing, restoration, detoxification, regulation, and strengthening occurs. We still aren’t sure why our bodies are programmed to need such a long period of sleep. But researchers do understand some of the critical functions of sleep. And why we need consistent, quality sleep for optimal health and wellbeing.
The Importance of Consistent, Quality Sleep
It’s not exactly hard to prove the importance of quality sleep. According to research by the University of Chicago, scientist Allan Rechtschaffen found that rats totally deprived of sleep die within 2-3 weeks. Obviously, no similar study has been done on humans. But it has been found that even as little as 24 hours without sleep can cause a number of issues. These include hallucinations and other schizophrenia-like symptoms.
Sleep is a difficult subject to study because it’s pretty difficult to isolate. Sleep-deprivation studies are the most common way to study the effects of sleep. However, by doing so, most of the subject’s biological systems would be compromised. It’s hard to tell what outcomes are related to sleep, vs. which ones are related to stress.
How Much Sleep is Enough Sleep?
Every single one of us should be getting an appropriate amount of sleep each night. It’s crucial to our health, as we need it to retain information and learn the skills necessary to thrive. Think about children for a second. One-year-olds need roughly 11-14 hours of sleep a night. Why do you ask? Because a child that young is learning a language, social, and motor skills at a rapid pace. They need that much sleep so they can process.
School-age children need between 9-11 hours of sleep. Teenagers need between 8-10. And adults need anywhere from 7-9. During the critical periods of growth and learning that we need the most sleep. Quality sleep leads to increased immune function. This meaning our T-Cells are at optimal protecting and fighting levels. Quality sleep also leads to better identification of antigens and increased mental alertness. Not to mention allows for increased energy wellbeing, and it facilitates the maintenance of a healthy weight.
Unfortunately, though, a person can’t accrue sleeping hours. The best sleep habits are ones that are consistent. Regardless of your age, you should try to meet your sleep needs every night. That way you are the most prepared you can be for the day’s challenges.
Sleep as a Detoxifier
While social media ads for detoxifying teas may have you convinced otherwise, it’s important to remember that sleep is another avenue in which the body detoxifies. Our body also produces and regulates hormones during those hours of slumber. During the night, the body slows down and resets. This is the primary time when short term memory converts into long term memory, our organs reset, and the autonomic nervous system slows down. Think of it as our “house cleaning” time. This is the time when the body identifies and destroys bad cells and utilizes Human Growth Hormone to repair cells and systems.
A study done by the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that the brain has different functional states when asleep versus when it’s awake. The restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness. The lymphatic system clears away toxins or waste products that could be responsible for brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.
As we mentioned, sleep is also a time for hormone regulation. According to the National Institute for Health, we release specific hormones when we sleep which control the following:
- Glucose regulation
- Appetite control
- Neuroendocrine function
- Cortisol release throughout the day
- Insulin sensitivity
- Levels of ghrelin
- Levels of leptin
- Release and regulation of Human Growth Hormone
Disruption of sleep leads to the disruption of hormone regulation. The instability may lead to wavering blood sugar levels, weight gain, inability to recover, mood issues, heart stress, and general feelings of unwell.
And When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Despite study after study showing the risks and side effects of too little sleep, disrupted sleep patterns are still widely accepted. It’s important to note that those in the study who slept less than seven hours experienced more detrimental health and weight issues than those who slept more than seven hours.
It seems like a number of things happen when we are sleep deprived. Dr. Malcom von Schantz, a researcher at Surrey University has found that genes respond to lack of sleep as if the body is under stress. He speculates that in the distant past, our ancestors’ bodies would prepare themselves for injury. They would activate inflammation genes in order to cushion attacks by enemies. Basically, it puts the body on alert for injury, but the injury never happens.
Dr. von Schantz says, “This could easily help explain the links between sleep deprivation and negative health outcomes such as heart disease and stroke.” In today’s world, there’s no benefit in preparing for an injury that never happens. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. The activation of the immune system might increase the risk of heart disease or stroke.
How is Modern Life Affecting our Sleep Patterns?
It’s no surprise that our sleeping patterns are affected by modern technology. With access to constant light, it’s hard for our bodies to begin the shut-down process naturally. On average, we go to bed and wake up two hours later than a generation ago!
In 2008, the US Center for Disease Control reported that a third of the working adult population gets less than 6 hours of sleep a night! That is 10 times more than it was 50 years ago. It has also been reported that nearly half of all the country’s shift workers were getting less than six hours sleep.
One of the biggest culprits of sleep is modern technology like cell phones, tablets, and other small hand-held devices. A Harvard Medical study found that those who used these devices before bed took longer to get to sleep. This is because they showed reduced levels of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates the body’s internal clock. The study also showed those users were also less alert in the morning.
Preparing for Optimal Sleep
There are a few things you can do to help yourself get the best quality sleep you can. These things include:
- Having a regular bedtime and sticking to it
- Setting the mood and environment for your sleep space
- Being conscious of when and what your last meal of the day is
- Finding rituals to calm yourself before bed such as meditating or praying
- Dim the lights and shut down screen time
- Use supplements if necessary
CPA Counseling Wants to Help with Your Sleep and Manage Your Stress!
Counseling can be a helpful tool to help you make mindfulness techniques a part of your daily life. Sharing your summer stressors with your therapist can help you both stay on the same page and keep you accountable in working towards your goals. Therapy and counseling are safe spaces where you can voice your concerns, develop coping and communication skills, and find the support you need.
Remember, therapy is hard work! It can feel extremely uncomfortable and even exhausting. Having a hand to hold and help guide you will only add to your personal success. Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and one in the Robinson area. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you stress less this summer!
Marissa Betancourt has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. After her studies at Chatham University, she became a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor as well as a Licensed Professional Counselor. She has approximately 5 years of experience working with the dually diagnosed population. She works with people who experience depression, anxiety, mood disorders, personality disorders, and substance use. Marissa uses a mix of motivational interviewing, behavioral therapy, CBT, psycho-education, and gestalt therapy to assist clients with working towards their goals. She is transparent and assertive in the counseling process, helping clients gain insight into past and current behavior. Marissa looks forward to helping you understand your symptoms and working through them at your own pace!