BY ETHAN KOMPF
This is the first of a three-part series about sleep. This part covers the importance of sleep and the negative effects of lack of sleep. The second and third parts will cover the barriers to sleep and how to overcome them and the cultural shifts in sleep patterns.
Sleep is one of the parts of our lives that little is known about. Scientists know what happens when we sleep, but they don’t know a lot about why we sleep. Intuitively, people know the importance of sleep, yet when time is short and they become busy, sleep is often the first thing to go. It’s strange that this culture is one in which people who only sleep three hours a night are seen as hard workers, when a lack of sleep has such devastating effects on our lives.
According to Stephanie Dance, the manager of community education and outreach services at Accq Sleep Labs, which has clinics in Waterloo, Paris, Ont. and Owen Sound, sleep is extremely important. It’s necessary to improve memory, because knowledge is put into long-term memory during sleep. It helps people get better when they’re sick and repairs the body. It affects stress levels and metabolism. A consistent lack of sleep can increase a person’s chances of stroke, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, depression and many other problems.
“Our cortisol levels are controlled by a good sleep routine,” said Dance. “When we go to bed our cortisol levels should be dropping and when we wake up they should be rising. If you’re not getting that seven to nine hours consistently per night and you’re sleeping at (different) times … your internal functions are confused … which will put your cortisol levels out of whack … (You) will be a lot more stressed out than (you) need to be.”
When people try to improve their health, they often focus on diet or exercise. These are both extremely important, but without sleep improvement becomes much more difficult. According to Dance, a lack of sleep leads to more eating and less healthy eating later in the night. This is problematic because there isn’t enough time for those calories to burn and according to some studies, one night without sleep can make people as insulin resistant as a type-2 diabetic.
“Sleep is a force multiplier,” said health expert Shawn Stevenson during an interview with Jordan Harbinger, host of the Art of Charm podcast. It can either help or hinder your results.” Sleep is important to have enough energy to exercise and to repair the body after exercise. It is important for nutrition because proper sleep leads to stronger willpower and less of a desire for unhealthy foods. In turn, better nutrition leads to better sleep, creating a virtuous cycle.
Sleep is also important for testosterone production. Men need more than women, but it is important for both sexes, because it has been shown to decrease body fat, increase muscle mass, increase bone density, maintain sex drive and improve cognitive function according to the United States National Institutes of Health. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that after just one week of getting less than five hours of sleep a night, testosterone levels in young men decreased by 10-15 per cent, the equivalent of aging 10-15 years.
Getting a good night’s sleep is especially important for students. The constant learning means that a strong memory is important and juggling school with a job, as many students do, requires energy which can only be gained through sleep. Yet many students find it hard to get the right amount of sleep.
“(I consistently) get four to six hours (of sleep) a night,” said Matt Bentley, a second-year journalism broadcast student at Conestoga College. “I barely want to get up in the morning … I usually sleep on the bus to make up for that … I’ve tried to go to bed earlier but I’m so used to going to bed later that my sleeping schedule has adjusted to that.”