The Significance of Sleep

The research is out.

Sleep is an incredibly important part of our daily lives, and affects our mental stability, mood, memory, athletic ability and recovery, motivation, coordination and so much more.

If you are habitually cutting your sleep short, you’ll suffer a myriad of problems.  If you are one that likes to try to pull “all-nighters” you’re ultimately damaging not only the work you’re trying to get done, but your physical and mental being as well.

Throughout this blog I’m including several links where you can continue some research on the benefits of sleep, and what happens when you don’t sleep enough.  A ton of research has been done on the subject, and you can continue to read about it until the cows come home.

For now, here are some useful cliff notes:

Sleep improves your mental functioning.

After a good night’s sleep, you’ll be more focused, more alert, more able to take in information.  This is extremely important for students or those who have very cerebral jobs (ahem…medical industry…) Conversely, it’s just terrible for your brain not to sleep well…especially if this is a chronic problem.  When you sleep your brain has the time to “goof off” and to clean itself, literally.  So when you get just one bad night or several, it’s like you’re walking around with a dirty brain.  Cobwebs are rather dysfunctional in there.

Sleep makes you happier.

Have you ever just tried to survive off of 5 or 6 hours, maybe several days in a row, and suddenly realize you’re more irritable, more depressed, less motivated?  According to the research even a single night of restricted sleep may cause “impairment” in emotional well-being.  Poor sleep has been linked to depression and anxiety—the issue here is also, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  I’ll talk more about dealing with poor sleep in the next blog, and will offer some strategies to improve your sleep.

It’s an elixir for creativity.

Wise artists know…they will be more creative and more productive in their creative endeavors when they build a disciplined sleep routine.  You’ve heard the old saying, when you’re trying to make a difficult decision, you should “sleep on it.”  It’s really true, though! According to this article, “Denise Cai from the University of California in San Diego found that our brains are better at integrating disparate pieces of information after a short bout of REM…Cai thinks that REM sleep catalyses the creative process by allowing the brain to form connections between unrelated ideas.”  Whether you’re looking for a creative solution, or you’re trying to write a book, choreograph a dance, or develop a new App, sleep will accelerate the process.

Your body repairs itself when you sleep.

Bodybuilders and triathletes know that their bodies need to recover.  In fact, more and more, coaches and athletes are recognizing that recovery is just as important as training.  And good sleep is critical to recovery.  According to  “The best training routine, diet and supplement program will not compensate for insufficient rest, and sleep is the best, and only (in some instances), way of getting this rest.” When we sleep, our muscles repair themselves, and aging cells are replaced with new.  So if you sleep well after a workout or training session, you’ll continue to benefit from it!  If you don’t, it’s almost like you’ve taken one step forward and two steps back.  Athletes who don’t sleep are more likely to be injured, as well.  This article details a study where sleep was found to be the single most effective way to avoid injury in runners.  What a simple way to stay at the top of your game…and IN the game, out of the doctor’s office.

Sleep deprivation negatively effects your metabolism.

Sleep is intricately connected to various hormonal and metabolic processes in the body and is important in maintaining metabolic homeostasis.”  One of my athletic heros, Scooby, has an excellent article about sleep, muscle mass and body fat.  In summary, if you are trying to build muscle, you need to get your z’s.  Sleep deprivation will actually triggers the body to be hungrier and to burn muscle instead of fat.  According to this article, sleep loss increases the stress hormone cortisol which causes you to retain more body fat—particularly around the middle of the body.  Not awesome. 

Sleep & stress.

While it may be true that it’s harder to sleep while stressed (keep your eyes out for an upcoming blog about how to sleep better even when stressed), your body’s stress response is FURTHER triggered when you miss sleep.  This can become a viscious cycle.  So again, if you know you’re under a lot of pressure, you’ll need to budget in more relaxation time AND more sleep.  This usually means de-prioritizing certain non-sleep and pro-stress related activities, and instead prioritizing down-time and recovery, and budgeting a few more hours for under the covers.

In summary,

if you are cheating yourself of restful hours, you’re going to start suffering on multiple levels.  So why not indulge in the beauty of sleep?  You will NOT get further any faster or any better by depriving yourself of sleep.

How much is enough? 

This will depend on every individual and their situation.  One cycle of REM sleep is generally agreed to be about 90 minutes.  So, I personally divide my sleep into 90-minute intervals.  As an active female in my 30’s who is physically active anywhere from two to six hours a day, I find that I prefer NO LESS than 7.5 hours, but prefer 9 hours most days, and when I’m sick or particularly sore, I’ll sleep 10.5 or more!  Generally, men will need less than women, and younger people will need more than adults or the elderly.  It will depend on how physically and mentally active you are.  If you’re going through a particularly stressful or challenging period of your life (students, competitive athletes), you will likely benefit from budgeting a few extra hours in there.


“Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two. This you cannot do without temperance.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson