By Marilyn Erickson, MSN, APRN
(Part one of a three part series)
Several years ago, when I was struggling with sleep, getting only 3 to 4 hours on many nights, I confided in a friend who then gave me a quote from William Shakespeare to impress upon me the importance of sleep. The quote she gave me is “Sleep knits the careworn sleeve of time” taken from Shakespeare's, Macbeth.
It seems that in our modern world, we have the idea that sleep does not go hand in hand with productivity. In fact, some reports suggest that at least half of the US population is not getting enough sleep.
The widely accepted range of needed sleep for adults is between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. So, if you think you can function on less than six hours of sleep per night, think again.
Since our brains are wired to ignore signs of sleep deprivation, many people get used to inadequate sleep and never really experience the damage this minimal amount of sleep is doing to our bodies and minds.
What did Shakespeare mean in the quote about sleep? The line by Macbeth means that sleep is a soothing time that heals or sews up all the worries and stresses of the day.
During sleep, our brains are firing and our bodies are repairing. Here are some of the ways:
Healthy Brain Function and Emotional Well-Being:
Sleep helps our brain work properly. It is forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information.
Sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain contributing to problems in any of the following:
·controlling emotions and behavior
·coping with change
Sleep deficiency has been linked to:
Adequate sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. It helps maintain a healthy balance of hormones that make you feel hungry or full. The hormone, ghrelin, that makes you feel hungry and the hormone, leptin, that makes you feel full are out of whack where ghrelin goes up and leptin goes down.
Sleep also affects how you react to insulin. Insulin is the hormone that controls your blood sugar level. When you don’t get enough sleep, you have a higher than normal blood sugar level. Increased blood sugar levels increase our risk for diabetes.
In addition, your immune system requires sleep to stay healthy. If you are sleep deficient, you may have more difficulty fighting common infections.
Adequate Sleep (7-9 hours) Means:
·enhanced immune function and disease resistance, helping you live longer
·increased energy and strength, so you feel and act more vibrantly
·improved weight loss and blood glucose regulation, helping you lose fat and improve your skin
·upgraded coordination and flexibility so you miss fewer steps and catch yourself when you do
·boosted hormone levels, so you recover faster and improve your fertility
·increased focus and creativity, so you can perform at your highest level
·enhanced memory and ability to learn complex skills, helping you retain what you learn
·improved emotion regulation, so you can keep your cool under stress
What About Inadequate Sleep? There are so many things at stake:
·your likelihood of developing diseases and chronic ailments increases - including obesity, depression, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Energy and resilience
·your tissue repair slows and lactic acid builds up faster
Weight and metabolism
·your weight loss shifts to shedding valuable muscle rather than fat
·your immune system is disrupted and handicapped at reducing inflammation
·your brain accumulates toxins that impair behavior and judgment and your critical decision-making center, the prefrontal cortex, shows reduced activity
·your cognitive impairment is equivalent to being inebriated after 20 hours of being awake
·your brain’s ability to learn and create long-term memories is compromised
Regulation of emotion
·your brain’s emotional center, your amygdala, increases activity and you are more likely to overreact to social situations, like fighting with your friend or spouse
It is evident that sleep is critical for the health of your body, mind, and spirit.
As a way of helping you more objectively measure the quality of your sleep, it may be helpful to keep a log of how well you sleep each night or you may have a wearable device which tracks aspects of your sleep. Having a better idea of how well you are sleeping can be motivating for you to develop more healthy patterns in your life.
Part 2 of this series (in a later edition of the CML newsletter) will highlight the strategies you can use (without medicine) to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Eugene, et al. The Neuroprotective Aspects of Sleep. MEDtube Science, March 3, 2015.
Kelly, et al. Sleep Tight: A Purpose for Sleep. Neurosurgery, February 1, 2014.NIH, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. December 13, 2021.
Underwood, Emily. Sleep: The Brain’s Housekeeper? Science, October 18, 2013.
Worley, Susan. The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, December, 2018.