Each day contains just 24 hours for all of us to squeeze in any household tasks, work assignments, appointments, and a myriad of other activities, ensuring we get everything done. Oftentimes, this means sacrificing certain activities to fit everything into our day. More often than not, what gets sacrificed is one of the most important parts of our days and our lives: personal care. While personal care is composed of many facets, which include destressing activities, diet, exercise, and many more, the one facet that gets sacrificed more than any other of these components is consistent and quality sleep. This does not mean that the other parts of personal care are not important, as each component plays an integral part in our lives. Still, sleep is what drives our ability to accomplish all of the tasks, responsibilities, and personal care activities that our bodies and minds need.
To start, it is important to lay the groundwork for what is considered a healthy amount of sleep and what goes on within the body and mind while we are asleep. The first question to answer is, how much sleep does one person need? The answer for this depends on that person’s age, as different age groups will require different amounts of sleep to get the full restorative effects of a healthy sleep routine. Babies need the most sleep as they are still developing and growing rapidly at their young age, about 16 hours. As we age, the length of required sleep lessens, such as with teenagers needing 9 hours of rest and adults only needing 8 hours. During this time frame, the body will go through sleep cycles, about 4-5 per night, where the body will go through different phases of sleep, such as deep sleep, where everything is at its lowest functioning level, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where dreaming occurs and heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure can rise and fall.
Now that we have a basic understanding of how much sleep is needed and what occurs with our body during sleep, let us explore the impact that sleep has on a person’s physical health. Since we live in a very fast-paced environment, it is essential that our body and mind have downtime to recharge, repair, and prepare for the next onslaught of activities without having to process incoming stimuli. While we are asleep, the body is busy at work regulating and producing hormones that assist in things like growth and development, insulin management, and digestive health. Additionally, giving the systems in your body time to rest, like the cardiovascular system, allows for a needed break for vital organs and decreases a person’s overall heart rate and blood pressure for each day.
Finally, after gaining an understanding of sleep’s impact on someone’s physical health, it is also important to understand the vitality sleep plays in a person’s mental health. Much like the cardiovascular system, while we are sleeping, the brain is working on consolidating memories for long-term storage as it can now truly filter through the events of the day without taking on any more stimuli. This break also allows the mind to rest, which is shown to help improve important skills like decision-making, focus/attention, and critical thinking. Without these skills functioning to the best of our abilities, feelings can start to creep in of overwhelm, low self-esteem, worry, or stress, and can make a person feel as though they aren’t able to cope with the stressor associated with one’s daily life. Dealing with these feelings long-term has been shown to be linked to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and many other mental health diagnoses. It can exacerbate them if they are already present. The examples provided above barely begin to scratch the surface when it comes to discussing the importance of sleep. Still, they highlight some of the most impactful parts of the importance of sleep in our lives. They should help to drive home the fact that the importance of sleep cannot be overstated enough. To avoid these risks, and many more, make sure to make the time necessary for your body to recharge and catch some ZZZZs.