sleepThis is a guest post by Amy Highland.

Most aspects of your health that are impacted by sleep. Appetite control, metabolism, emotional stability, and muscle recovery can all be benefited by getting more sleep.

But what does sleep do exactly? How does it help? What difference does it make?

The Power of the Mind

Some interesting changes take place in the brain when you’re sleep deprived that make you more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and stress. For example, the activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain that processes emotions, goes up when you’re tired while activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of your brain that applies reasoning and logic, goes down.

Essentially, lack of sleep makes you more likely to emotional decisions. It can also increase your reactions to negative stimuli. If you’re already experiencing stress, without enough sleep, it’s going to go up.

Sleep does more than make you feel emotional. It slows down your brain and thinking processes.

Neurons in the brain slow the speed at which they send messages. As the neurons slow down, your decision-making skills, reasoning abilities, and reaction times are affected. These changes in your mental abilities can also come back to alter your physical performance.

Staying on Top of Your Game

A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics surveyed 112 high school athletes and found that getting less than eight hours of sleep made them 1.7 times more likely to get a sports-related injury. It might be harder to avoid an injury if you’re reacting half a second slower than normal.

Not only are you more likely to get injured, but you also can’t achieve peak performance. Collegiate athletes that extended their sleep time from eight to ten hours recorded faster sprint times, higher free-throw percentages, and higher three-point percentages. Every aspect of their athletic performance improved when they got more rest.

When it comes down to it, sleep isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessary biological function your body needs to build, recharge, and recover from the demands you place on it.

More Sleep = Better Health and Performance

Many of your personal behaviors and habits influence your ability to sleep. A few simple changes might be all you need to increase your sleep hours.

  • Be Consistent: A consistent sleep-wake schedule, that means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, helps your body correctly time the release of sleep hormones. Try to maintain your schedule on the weekends to prevent sleep debt on Monday morning.

  • Snack Smart: If you’re a late-night snacker, skip high-fat, heavy foods. Instead, opt for foods that aid in the production of sleep hormones like almonds, walnuts, dairy products, and cherries.

  • Time Your Exercise Right: Exercise is good for every part of your life – mental, physical, and emotional. However, as far as sleep is concerned, avoid strenuous workouts within four hours of bedtime. The rise in body temperature and release of endorphins can keep you awake for hours.

If you’re still struggling to get enough sleep after a consistent (several weeks) effort at developing healthy sleep habits, you may have an underlying sleep disorder. Talk to your physician for treatment options like a mouthguard or CPAP machine.

Sleep gives every aspect of your health a boost. When it’s one of your top priorities, you’re opening the door to reach new levels in your profession, personal, and athletic goals.

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy’s a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats. 

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