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The Benefits of Better Sleep

Kids never want to go to sleep. Or at least mine don’t. When they were younger especially, I would tell them, ‘I wish someone would make me eat and make me go to bed at a decent hour’. There’s a point in life when our rational mind takes over and we decide sleep is good and we want it. For me, this flip happened when I started working a summer job in late high school and early college. I had to get up at (to me) an ungodly hour and that was all it took! Sleep w

as officially important now! Maybe a summer job was my parents’ sly way of keeping me out of trouble since I just wanted to go to bed most nights after I got home!

So, as adults, if we know inherently that sleep is important, why don’t we do it? Why don’t we get better sleep? Why do we stay up watching that next episode of House Hunters International about some couple from Minnesota we don’t know choosing a house in some country we’ll never visit? This will be a 2 part series on sleep. Today I’m going to point out some big benefits of good quality sleep. Then, next week, we’ll go over 12 tips to actually getting that 5-star, Rumpelstiltskin-level sleep.

Studies have shown that good sleep, defined as more than 6 and preferably up to 8 hours, benefits your health in several ways. It helps you age slower. Don’t believe me? Look up pictures of Abraham Lincoln at the beginning of his presidency and those towards the end. He, as most presidents, ran on fumes which has a detrimental effect of aging and overall health. Better sleep boosts immunity. Think about it – as a college kid, cramming for exams, did you ever get ill afterwards? I tended to, and lack of sleep had something to do with it.

Great sleep lowers inflammation. A 2010 study showed less than 6 hours of sleep increased levels of an inflammatory marker, CRP. Inflammation is a root factor in several disorders in life including heart disease and cancers. Sleep improves mood, emotional stability (less anxiety and depression for examples), concentration, and memory. When you sleep, your brain consolidates memories from the previous day – I picture the little guys in the movie Inside Out filing away little memory snippets next to the one for TripleDent Gum. How about productivity? Think you’re better off burning the midnight oil to get that last bit of work in? Nope. Studies have shown folks who get better sleep (>6 hours) pound for pound are more productive on a day even, though they spend less overall time working!

It is easier to lose and keep weight off with better sleep. Sleep increases production of something called leptin, which tells your body when you’re full and don’t need to eat anymore. You also are more inclined to eat healthier, exercise and have more sex if you sleep better. One study, for example, showed a 14% increase in interest in sex in women for every extra hour of sleep. Sleep has also been shown to improve pain management with study subjects requiring less pain medication if they slept closer to 7-8 hours nightly. Sleep also lowers the risk of accidents, like falling asleep at the wheel. Did you know the Exxon Valdez oil spill was attributed to sleep deprivation?

Those benefits sound wonderful, but how do we actually do it? How do we get more sleep? Make sure to read next week’s column. I’ll give you my best tips to getting better sleep! Until then, here’s a general tip to implement today: one hour before you want to go to sleep, go ahead and retire to your bedroom. If you’re like me, you sit on the couch and say, ‘I need to go to bed’ but you still sit there watching TV for no real reason besides you’re too tired to get up. Move to the bedroom while you still have the energy to do so and you’ll likely get to sleep earlier. And, when you do, get ready to see some of the benefits you just read about!

Dr. Thomas is a board-certified physician who operates Complete Health Integrative Wellness Clinic and Thomas Urology Clinic in Starkville, Mississippi.

This blog post is for informational purposes only and is, under no circumstances, intended to constitute medical advice or to create or continue a physician-patient relationship. If you have a medical emergency, you should immediately seek care from your nearest emergency room, and if you have specific health questions, you should consult your own physician.

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