Sleep Your Way to Better Health

While making your New Year’s resolutions, did you include getting more sleep? In this busy, goal-driven world we live in, many people don’t consider sleep part of leading a successful life. But quality sleep can improve your health, sharpen your mind and make you better at your job.

As we grow older, sleep difficulties often increase. In a National Institute on Aging study of people age 65 and older, over half reported having at least one chronic sleep complaint. And, good sleep becomes increasingly important as we age. Here are just a few ways sleep can improve your health.

Prevent disease

Numerous studies have shown that a good night’s sleep may help prevent several serious conditions and diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Usually, the increased risk from lack of sleep becomes serious after many years of deprivation. However, one study showed that people who had gone through induced disturbed sleep patterns developed blood glucose levels that qualified as pre-diabetic after just four days.

Clean your brain

Several studies have shown that your brain has a wonderful way of eliminating toxic waste, including beta-amyloid proteins, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These studies also discovered that the system that accomplishes this feat is 10 times more active during sleep. So if you’re not getting enough quality sleep, your brain can’t eliminate waste efficiently. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that poor sleep caused more buildup of beta-amyloid proteins and that this buildup affected people’s ability to sleep well, a classic vicious cycle. The good news is that poor sleep is a highly treatable condition.

Improve your mood

You’ve probably experienced this firsthand. Many of us are familiar with being more irritable after a bad night’s sleep. Even mild sleep deprivation can have a significant effect on your mood. University of Pennsylvania researchers discovered that healthy, young adults who had their sleep reduced by 33 percent for one week reported higher levels of fatigue, confusion and tension than the control group. When they resumed normal sleep, their moods improved.

Lose weight

A lack of sleep can hinder the ability of the frontal lobe of your brain – which governs decision-making and impulse control – to perform at its best. Additionally, when you’re tired, the brain starts seeking out something to make it feel better, making it harder to resist food cravings. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who were sleep-deprived tended to eat more late-night snacks and were most likely to choose high-carb snacks.

Perform better in life

Whether you’re an athlete, a brainiac, or pursue creative endeavors, a good night’s sleep will help you perform at your peak. A Stanford University study found that college basketball players who extended their sleep to 10 hours a night or longer improved sprint times and shooting accuracy. You may have heard the phrase “Let me sleep on it.” Researchers have discovered that your brain is very active during sleep. If you learn something new, sleeping may help you retain your knowledge longer. If you have an issue that needs solving, catching some ZZZs may help you discover a solution to your problem.

Help for the sleep-challenged

Many of us have trouble sleeping a full eight hours a night. If getting a good night’s sleep is a challenge for you, what can you do? Take a nap! Several studies have shown that a nap can help improve memory and improve one’s ability to perform several tasks. Axel Mecklinger, a professor at Saarland University in Germany, headed a team of researchers that conducted a study of the effect of napping on memory. The results of his study are clear. According to Mecklinger, “Even a short sleep lasting 45 to 60 minutes produces a five-fold improvement in information retrieval from memory.” An earlier study by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration revealed that cockpit naps (while the pilots are still in the air) of up to 40 minutes for pilots who are on flights longer than seven hours helped them stay more alert.

Make this the year you pamper yourself with getting enough sleep. It not only feels good, it’s a pathway to better health.