How Sleep Affects Health

By now, all of us are keenly aware that we should stop feeling guilty about sleep, stop surrendering ourselves to our mattress at night, and  embrace the proven scientific benefits that only 7-9 hours of restorative, life giving sleep can offer. 

We’re not only a mattress review site, but we’re also a team of experienced sleep experts, too.  A fantastic mattress is just part of the chemical equation for the best night’s sleep ever, but it’s a pretty big part.

When we turn off the lights and fall asleep, a host of physiological mechanisms and systems come alive, as if you were starting up a ferocious engine that fuels some hungry beast. 

We all know what it feels like to be exhausted. There’s a very strong reason for that sudden overwhelming sense of fatigue the hits us around 10PM every night, pretty standard for most people. In fact, your brain, in just the right conditions, basically tells your organ systems to shut down for the night. 

Your digestive system, your brain, skeletal muscle cells, lungs, and your nervous system, all need to be garaged for the night to undergo routine maintenance. Cells shrink, expelling toxic waste and garbage, your immune system fabricates depleted hormones.

While you sleep, your bone marrow is busy building new cells and repairing worn and torn cells, your pancreas makes insulin (when you deprive yourself of sleep, your body can’t break down sugar effectively), and your skin churns out growth factors that maintain elasticity and repair damage with assembly line efficiency.

Research shows that glial cells in the brain, previously ignored in the literature, turn into massive pumps. While during the day they act as conduits for conducting nerve impulses for everything from smells to emotions, at night they swell in size triggering tremendous activity that alternatively stimulates and calms the brain, lulling it into a state of REM sleep. At first the brain responds by cycling back and forth between REM and non-REM sleep, but eventually it slows down, reducing the amount of electrical activity, calming the brain and allowing it to perform the maintenance functions it needs to perform.

If you are an athlete, or just like to stay in shape, sleeping is the time where recovery from injuries like muscle tears takes place. Having a mattress is important, too, because the right sleep surface can keep you asleep, minimize tossing and turning, and encourage lymphatic flow, venous blood return, and help with oxygen saturation by encouraging proper breathing and keep airways unobstructed.

An ideal mattress should be soft on top, deliver nestle factor and uplifting support in the middle, and provide a firm base to encourage proper spine alignment. A properly designed mattress can do two things for you: get you to sleep and keep you there, and hold you in a state of suspended animation for a solid 7-9 hours. If your current mattress doesn’t meet these guidelines, it’s time to find another one.

No longer the duty driven and non-productive part of your day, sleep is now perceived by many successful people as the one essential tool to success and wellness. But many uber-successful people have been focused on quality sleep regimens for decades. 

Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez regards her regular scheduled eight hours a night as her number-one beauty secret. “Sleep is my weapon,” she once said. “I try to get eight hours a night. I think what works best is sleep, water—and a good cleanser.” 

Jennifer Aniston is pathological about getting quality sleep every night of every day. She advises losing your devices and keeping them five feet away in your bed, do stretching before bedtime, and meditating for five minutes before bed.

Business people too, value the commodity of sleep. Albert Einstein was known for long naps in the afternoon, sleeping in late, and didn’t tolerate being summoned too early in the day. Mastering the universe and discovering the origins of the universe just had to wait. 

During the day your body is like a machine, operating and performing functions, but at night, it needs servicing and refueling. But just how dangerous is the lack of sleep? In fact, more and more research suggests deadly outcomes rise steadily when you deprive yourself of restorative sleep. 

Put sleep at a low priority level in your life, and deprive your self of quality sleep hygiene, like a good mattress, and your lifespan will be shortened, and you are setting yourself up to spend the last two decades of your life in and out of hospitals, some experts say.

One recent study in mice clearly shows that sleep deprivation can kill off a population faster than starvation. Studies of humans who have irregular sleep schedules, or deprive themselves of 7-9 hours of regular sleep, are at higher risk of developing diseases that can cause early death, like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Not prioritizing sleep can also cause you to dramatically increase your risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, PTSD, mood disorders, and anxiety. Just like smoking cigarettes and making terrible food choices, failing to prioritize sleep can directly contribute to an early death.

Technology fueled workplaces, unending media access, social media platforms, and constant stimuli required by our instant gratification and high connectivity requirements, all contribute to reduced sleep time and disrupted sleep hygiene.

Further, kids today are conditioned early in life to deprive themselves of a solid night’s sleep. Pulling all nighters with gaming devices, only about 15-30% of U.S. teens get the minimum 8.5 hours of sleep recommended by experts. A full two thirds of our young population are already setting the stage for medical disasters early in life.

Life expectancy has gradually improved over the last century, but not as strongly as one would expect, likely because our poor sleep habits and the weight of our collective sleeplessness has probably kept that number down, when it could be a lot higher.

The irony of a seemingly successful individual who consumes a carefully controlled diet, spends an hour in the gym every day, and then brags about how little sleep they require, doesn’t realize that while they may have the agility to drive a dozen nails into a coffin very efficiently, they aren’t able to comprehend that it’s their own wooden box we’re talking about.

“Only recently has the importance of a mattress begun to outweigh the importance of an office chair”…

Sleep is something that we find hard to examine and evaluate, like using a FitBit to measure the achievements of a hard fought exercise or conditioning campaign. The goals and rewards are not clearly visible, therefore we discount them, says one expert. 

One of the problems with sleep being accepted as a critical health requirement is that up until very recently, like within the last 20 years, no one really knew what the purpose of sleep was. In fact, some theorists argued that as mammals, we are primarily meant to sleep, and that wakefulness is only required to burn off energy to allow us to get back to sleep.

Sleep is likely a mechanism that allows us to become inactive at night, when nocturnal hunters are on the prowl looking for meat. This allowed us to quietly hide in sheltered places. Sleeping also keeps from continuously eating, which required additional hunting and gathering. While these theories make sense, it is far more likely than the true purpose of sleep is to take care of the machine.

The caliber of the nest we learned to build for ourselves, our mate, and our offspring was also likely directly proportional to the quality of our sleep. 

“Only recently has the importance of a mattress begun to outweigh the importance of an office chair”, says Marc Anderson, senior editor and founder of the Mattress Buyer Guide.

Because sleep treatment plans are now included in therapy for diseases such as cancer, depression, ADHD, PTSD, and other conditions, sleep is considered more important than exercise and diet, in the proper perspective. 

Instead of being viewed as a “catch it if you can” kind os biological necessity, sleep if finally being viewed as a pillar of health, the foundation upon which all other aspects of our lives follow.

Still, while 75% of physicians concur that lack of sleep is a major health problem, only a handful, about 40% say they counsel their patients about sleep hygiene, the importance of a good mattress that fits the individuals sleep habits and comfort needs. That is alarming when you consider that virtually 100% of practitioners ask if their patients smoke, and 93% ask about diet and nutrition.

While optimal sleep habits won’t kill cancer for example, it is proven to improve your odds of recovery, making it less aggressive and more responsive to chemotherapy or other treatments.

To visit our Trusted Retailer page, where we have carefully vetted only a handful of mattresses that we recommend to help develop excellent sleep hygiene and provide longer hours of restorative sleep, click here.

Sleep Researchers Explain Why Happens To Your Body When You Are Sleep Deprived

On World Sleep Day, Prerna Varma and Hailey Meaklim, PhD researchers in the RMIT Sleep Lab in Australia, explain just what happens to your brain and body when you are sleep deprived.

1. Your cognitive performance diminishes

You need sleep to recharge your brain. Being tired and not sleeping well disrupts genes that govern circadian rhythm, effectively reducing your ability to perform a task.

It also affects your memory and your ability to retain information. Lack of sleep reduces activity in your hippocampus – the memory centre of the brain. So you might pull an all-nighter to study for an exam, but forget details on the day because your hippocampus didn’t encode those memories.

Even one night of partial sleep deprivation impacts your executive functioning. In brief, sleep loss can impair attention and concentration, reducing your capacity for reasoning and problem solving.

2. Your reaction time is reduced (and your risk of accidents increases)

Have you every decided to stay awake late into the night to complete an assignment, but woken up the next morning with only 10 sentences on your screen? That’s probably because your body experienced “microsleeps”, brief episodes of sleep while you are awake.

Microsleeps usually occur when you are sleep deprived (due to a build-up of homeostatic sleep drive), getting longer until you get full sleep. This prevents you from being alert and reduces reaction time, sometimes with dire consequences.

In countries, countless people die every day due to drowsy driving or industrial accidents related to sleep deprivation. Sleep loss often results in reduced awareness of the environment and situations.

3. Your mood is disturbed (and so are your emotional responses)

Grumpy, cranky, tired or just plain annoyed after a bad night of sleep? You are not alone!

Regular sleep loss can increase negative mood states, which basically means you might feel more irritable. It can also lead to problems with relationships.

In fact, depression is overrepresented in people with sleep disorders, and insomnia is a risk factor for developing or recurring depression. Treating sleep problems can help with reducing depression and its symptoms.

That’s not all! Sleep deprivation not only affects your mood, but also your ability to interpret and understand emotional signals.

For instance, after one night of sleep deprivation, participants in a study had trouble distinguishing whether facial expressions were threatening or non-threatening. Sleep deprivation can impair the central and peripheral nervous system, making you perceive others as threatening.

4. You risk developing serious health problems

Sleep loss can put you at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and several other chronic medical conditions. A greater degree of sleep deprivation is possibly associated with greater adverse effects on health.  For example, sleep loss leads to an increase in ghrelin levels, a hormone responsible for stimulating appetite.

There is also a relationship between shorter sleep time and impaired glucose tolerance, a key issue in diabetes. Large population studies indicate increased risk of heart attacks and strokes related to sleep loss. Poor sleep is associated with lower life expectancy.  So, sleep is the under-appreciated hero that everyone needs more of! But how to get a better night’s sleep?

1. Know thy magic number

Every age group has different sleep needs. The National Sleep  Foundation provides some guidelines on the recommended sleep duration for your age. But sleep needs differ between individuals so keep in mind that you may need a little more or less than the average.  

2. Have regular wake-up times

Work, social commitments, mobile screens, social media and TV shows push our bedtimes on a regular basis. Before you know it, 11pm becomes 1am and then it’s 2am over the weekends and we start sleeping in much later. Together these can throw our circadian rhythms out of whack!

To have better sleep, go for a more consistent bed and wake time seven days a week (yes, even on weekends!) to anchor your circadian rhythm and help your body clock know when to be awake and when to be asleep.  

3. Make your bed a sacred space for sleep

It’s not the place to stream TV shows, watch videos, upload pictures or do a lot of thinking or worrying! Think Psychology 101 and classical conditioning here. The relationship we want in our heads is: bed = sleep.  

This is a sleep strategy we call stimulus control. Limit the bedroom to sleep and sex, so your brain knows that when you are in bed, it is time for sleep!

4.  Avoid napping

If you often find yourself unable to sleep at night and take naps to compensate, then avoid sleeping during the day.

It can interrupt your night-time sleep by decreasing your homeostatic sleep drive (kind of like having a snack before your main meal can reduce your hunger)!

5. Know that you can’t exercise yourself to sleep

Exercising is good for sleep overall, but too close to the bedtime and it might just wake your brain and body up! It’s counterintuitive, as people often think if they are not tired for sleep, they should do more exercise.

Exercise and having a healthy routine during the day is important but avoid doing any stimulating activity close to bedtime.

6. Avoid stimulants and heavy meals

Too close to bedtime and they can interfere with your body clock. Avoid eating big meals and drinking coffee or alcohol at least three hours before bedtime.

Steer especially clear of caffeine, which has a half-life of three to five hours. So if you have a coffee at 5pm, you may still have 50% of the caffeine in your system at 10pm.  

7. Get the right light exposure at the right time

Get plenty of light and sunshine in the morning and avoid blue light from mobile devices and LED lights at night.

Blue light from devices delays the release of your hormone of darkness, melatonin, which helps you get sleepy. Getting your light right helps your body clock regulate day and night naturally.

8. Create a buffer zone between awake and asleep

We can’t turn on sleep like we flick on a light switch! Our brains and bodies need some wind-down time to let go of our day and help us transition to sleep.

Winding down for an hour or so before bed with some relaxing activities like reading a book or some gentle yoga can help. 

If none of these sleep tips seem to help, speak to your GP and consider getting a referral to see a sleep specialist.

Sleep specialists such as sleep physicians and sleep psychologists specialize in treating sleep disorders, like obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, and there are effective treatments available to help you get a better night’s sleep.