Shocking Health Benefits Of Sleep

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Quality shut-eye is some of the best medicine
available. It leads to more energy, helps you
handle stress and improves overall well-being.
Your system also benefits in countless little-
known yet important ways when you get the
seven to eight hours nightly that experts
recommend.
Sleep is your body’s time to heal, recharge and
restore itself. Skimp on it, it that sleep debt
affects every body function, from your memory to
your mood to the number of sick days you take
and even your risk for a heart attack, says Shalini
Paruthi, M.D., a sleep specialist and spokesperson
for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. In
case you need more convincing, here are the 11
biggest ways sleep gives your body a major
assist.
Sleep keeps your heart healthy: Add sleep
deprivation to the list of risk factors that can
leave you spending a lot of time in a cardiologist’s
office. “Poor sleep quality is linked to heart health
problems, from high blood pressure to heart
attacks,” says Paruthi. Here’s why: Regularly
shortchanging yourself on sleep can lead to a
surge in stress hormones such as cortisol. The
uptick in stress hormones compels your ticker to
respond by working harder, and it doesn’t get the
rest it needs, says Paruthi.
It prevents you from packing on pounds: A good
night’s rest won’t necessarily result in losing
weight, but it can keep you from adding unwanted
pounds. First, sleeplessness cranks up production
of the hormone ghrelin, which boosts appetite,
says Michael Breus, Ph.D., sleep specialist and
author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan. “It also
leads to a decrease in the hormone leptin, which
signals feeling full,” says Breus. And by making
you more stress-prone and low-energy, lack of
sleep reduces your ability to fight junk food
cravings. Give in to the office vending machine,
and that candy bar will send your blood sugar
surging, then crashing, leaving your appetite
raging all over again.
It lowers your odds of a car crash: Because a
sleep debt slows your reaction time and reduces
your ability to focus, “driving a car when you’re
low on sleep is just as dangerous as driving
drunk,” says Paruthi. Research backs this up:
People who regularly sleep six to seven hours per
night are twice as likely to get in an accident as
those who usually score at least eight hours,
according to a study from the AAA Foundation for
Traffic Safety. Catch less than five hours, and
your odds of a crash quadruple, reports the study.
Sleep strengthens your immune system: Want to
stay off the injury list and take fewer sick days?
Make a habit of getting high-quality rest to keep
the immune cells and proteins of your immune
system in fighting shape. That, in turn, improves
your ability to beat back colds, the flu, and other
infections. Sleep also makes vaccines more
effective. “After getting a shot, people with sleep
issues don’t develop the same antibody response
as well-rested people, and that leaves them more
susceptible,” says Paruthi.
It keeps your brain from frying: Remember that
1980s PSA that compared a cracked egg to your
brain on drugs? Well, that sizzling egg is similar
to your brain on sleep deprivation. While getting
proper sleep is linked to improved concentration
and higher cognitive functioning, even one
sleepless night sets you up to feel fuzzyheaded,
scattered and unfocused the next day. Your
memory recall isn’t as sharp, and everything you
do is in slow-mo, says Paruthi. That puts your job
at risk. “You’re more likely to make mistakes at
work, for example, but less likely to realize it and
correct them,” she says.
It fires up your sex life: Steady, quality shut-eye
keeps testosterone levels high, prevents erection
problems and ensures that you’re never too
exhausted for sex. Cheat yourself out of sleep,
however, and you cheat yourself out of great sex.
Research shows that men who sleep less than six
hours nightly have lower levels of testosterone,
says Paruthi, and flagging testosterone can sink
sex drive.
It can prevent headaches: If you get stress
headaches, scoring plenty of rest will help keep
them from striking, says Paruthi. Sleep
deprivation also plays an indirect role in making
your head hurt as well by making you less able to
cope with stress and anxiety, two things that can
trigger a throbbing skull, even when you’ve had
plenty of R&R.
It keeps you in top form at the gym: Quality sleep
is like nature’s sports supplement, improving your
speed, hand-eye coordination, reaction time and
muscle recovery. Thing is, even short-term sleep
deprivation messes with these, throwing off your
performance at the gym. Also, a 2013 study in the
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
found that sleep deprivation reduced muscle
strength and power the next day, particularly if
your workout was later in the afternoon.
It boosts your mood: Think about the last time
you slept really well: You probably woke up feeling
brighter and optimistic, had more energy and drive
and were less likely to let little challenges — like
bad traffic or a heavy workload — lead to anger
and frustration. Well, subpar sleep habits can
have the opposite effect. “Even one night of
sleeplessness can makes you cranky and irritable
the next day,” says Paruthi. You’re also more
vulnerable to stress and anxiety. All of these can
make it harder to fall asleep the next night, so
you become trapped in a cycle of sleeplessness
and bad mood. The escape plan: vowing you’ll go
to bed at a decent hour, and letting your system
recharge and restore itself.
Sleep increases your pain threshold: If you want
to tough out physical pain, hit the sack. That’s
the suggestion of a 2012 study from the journal
Sleep, which divided study subjects into two
groups, one that slept nine hours nightly and
another that slept an average seven each night.
Researchers then tested how long each
participant could hold their finger to a radiant
heat source. Subjects in the nine-hour group
withstood the heat about 25 percent longer. It’s
not clear why more sleep led to more pain
tolerance, but the findings echo similar results in
other studies and suggest that a long night’s
sleep is a potent pain reliever.
It bolsters your relationships: Considering that
sleep deprivation contributes to crankiness and a
crabby mood, it’s no wonder poor sleepers have
more problems with their partner, including a
greater likelihood of disagreements and a reduced
ability to have empathy, says Paruthi. “Your sleep
habits have a wider effect on the people around
you than you think, contributing to relationship
satisfaction and happiness,” she adds.
-Esther Crain

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