I have three phobias which, could I mute them, would make my life as slick as a sonnet but as dull as ditchwater: I hate going to bed, I hate to get up and I hate to be alone.
I didn’t say that, Talulah Bankhead did. But I’m a bit Talulah. For most of my adult life, I’ve found any excuse possible to avoid sleepy time. I also loathe the piercing, electronic bleating of the alarm clock each work-day morning. Yet, on those occasions when I do obtain a fruitful night’s sleep, I’m reminded of its potent value. Just like regular physical activity and a wholesome diet, restorative sleep is a fundamental component of positive ageing.
The Benefits of Sleep
Why is sleep so essential? Let’s count the benefits to mind and body:
- Sleep is the period during which our cells repair themselves. From mending a cut on your thumb to reducing inflammation caused by stress, seven to nine hours’ sleep revitalises your brain and body for optimum efficiency.
- Sleep regulates neurotransmitters like serotonin. Poor sleep leads to a lack of serotonin, which increases your risk of depression. Seven to nine hours sleep per night maintains the chemical balance in your brain and decreases this risk.
- A good night’s sleep boosts your memory and creates new neural pathways in the brain. Current research suggests dreams are the mechanism by which your mind makes sense of the events of the day. Whether you remember them or not, it’s likely that they influence the decisions you make during your waking hours.
- Lack of sleep increases poor decision-making, be it at a work meeting or driving. Sleep is essential to the immune system and keeping your T-cell count primed to fight off infections and disease. Research suggests that, even if you are deprived of sleep on one night, your immune system will recover if you regain your recommended sleep levels over subsequent nights.
- Disturbed or poor-quality sleep contributes to cholesterol and blood pressure problems, so for the sake of your heart – go to sleep!
- In the deepest stages of sleep, your brain cleans itself out of the plaques and other toxins that trigger Alzheimer’s disease, so for the sake of your brain – go to sleep!