When I was younger, and in the years before having children, I loved sleeping in and did so as much as I could. Whether I was crawling out of bed at the last minute on a weekday or rolling out of bed at noon on the weekend, it was one of my favourite things to do.
I am convinced I was a cat in another life and I will still sell my soul to the devil for another hour of sleep or one last hit of the snooze button….
Many before me, however, have disagreed. The prolific inventor Thomas Edison slept three or four hours at night, claiming, “Sleep is a criminal waste of time, inherited from our cave days” and Margaret Thatcher once said, “Sleep is for wimps.”
When my husband and I first met, he used to say to me, “You’re sleeping your life away.” I would argue that sleep was one of the best things for me and that when I had a good sleep, I always woke happier and with more energy. After all, Einstein slept for at least 10 hours a day and look at what he accomplished!
Back when I used to have those “arguments” with my husband about sleep, I was arguing on a personal level, without evidence to back me up. But as I have gotten older, I’ve become wiser. I now know that sleep is one of the best things for us. And there’s proof of that.
We spend about one third of our life sleeping and the powerful evolutionary benefits far outweigh the considerable risks of missing out on food or being eaten by predators.
Sleep is essential to both physical and mental health. Sleep restores, rejuvenates, and energises the body and brain. When we sleep, the brain performs numerous physiological, neurological, and biochemical housekeeping tasks. Deep sleep consolidates our memories, clearing our “mental desktop”, saving the files we need and discarding the rest into the recycle bin.
Sleep is associated with, and in many studies has been correlated with, everything from better outcomes at school to decreased likelihood of using drugs.
Conversely, cumulative lack of sleep may have negative long-term effects on our physical health. A lack of sleep has been associated with greater risk of being overweight or obese; poor regulation of blood glucose levels; insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. It has also been linked to depression, dementia and, more recently, risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
Lifestyle factors may also play a role in these associations, as well as socio-economic factors like stress and social isolation, but the jury is in, sleep matters!
After a poor night’s sleep our concentration and memory are noticeably affected and we’re more impulsive – emotionally driven by immediate gratification. One study even found that we are more likely to cheat and lie when we’re sleep deprived.
To this day, I still love sleeping in. I often joke that it is a hobby – a skill – something I would love to list on my CV as a proficiency if professionally acceptable.
According to evidence, less than one percent of humans have a genetic mutation where they only need a small amount of sleep. The rest of us who think we can get by with six hours or less on a regular basis are kidding ourselves.
So, the next time someone gives you grief about getting your Z’s, give that grief (and the evidence!) right back and turn off the light. I know I do.
Sweet dreams readers!
P.S. If (unlike me) you do have trouble sleeping, I recommend putting a sleep routine in place to wind down at night. Good sleep hygiene is important for good health. Avoid eating late at night, as well as stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and find a relaxing bedtime routine. Finally, and most importantly, limit screen time before going to bed and no screens 30 minutes before you turn off the lights.
If you want to learn more about the importance of sleep and building a positive sleep routine, check out this amazing article from the Australian Society for Lifestyle Medicine.
This blog was written by Jennifer Sweeting, and appeared originally on the DiabetesWA website (shared with permission).
About the author: Jennifer Sweeting is an American anthropologist happily living ‘down under’ in Perth, Western Australia. Currently working at Diabetes WA in the primary care engagement space, Jennifer is passionate about person-centred care and empowerment and thrives on human connection. Jennifer also co-hosts a radio show on Radio Fremantle and is a part-time blogger writing about everything from health and wellness to the comedic side of life with two young boys. When she’s not ‘connecting’ or making people laugh, she spends every minute possible at the beach or in nature.