It’s nearly midnight. You’ve been in bed for the last hour and a half, trying to fall asleep but failing.
You’re tossing and turning, looking for that one comfortable position to help you finally drift off. But you can’t seem to find it.
Another hour goes by, but you’re still not sleeping. Despite trying your hardest, your mind is racing, and you’re getting frustrated. After all, you have to get up in six hours, and it’s a long day ahead.
At some point, you fall asleep, but before you know it, that dreadful sound cuts through the silence:
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
Time to get up. Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem under normal circumstances. But you’ve only slept four hours and feel like a bus ran over you.
In any case, you have no choice. The day is calling, so you muster up the energy, get up, and prepare yourself. You take that final peek in the mirror and head out the door…
Does This Sound Familiar?
We’ve had to deal with sleep problems. The occasional night of poor sleep isn’t the end of the world. But when you string enough of these in a row, it shows.
Your energy levels plummet, you lack the motivation to do anything, you’re irritable, and you can’t seem to focus. Your workouts suffer, you’re less productive at work, and you sometimes find yourself snapping at people for no apparent reason.
Sleep is integral to our health, well-being, and productivity. Too many people today sacrifice their sleep for a few extra hours of work or play. But, ironically, sleep deprivation renders that extra time useless because we can’t genuinely focus or enjoy the time.
The Critical Importance of Good Sleep
Among the many things we can do to elevate our health and well-being, sleep probably tops the list. While researchers don’t fully understand why we need sleep, we do, and depriving ourselves of it only leads to trouble.
Most notably, sleep deprivation leads to the accumulation of sleep debt. In one study, subjects that got to sleep four or six hours per night displayed steadily declining cognitive abilities from day to day (1). What’s worse, subjects couldn’t accurately judge their performance declines. In their eyes, they saw a slight drop initially but got used to it afterward, and things got back to normal.
Other studies also find that sleep deprivation reduces our energy levels and willingness to do things (2). Our performance drops, and we limit our body’s abilities to use various energy sources.
Another significant bottleneck is that the lack of sleep can decrease glycogen availability in the brain and thus limit our ability to produce energy for processes related to cognition, focus, and alertness (3, 4).
Research also finds that sleep plays a vital role in metabolic health and where the body gets energy from (5). Specifically, not getting enough sleep shifts this in favor of lean tissue breakdown for energy instead of relying on fat.
When put together, each of these effects points at one thing:
Getting enough sleep is vital for our energy levels, cognitive function, and long-term health. It impacts the brain on many levels, shifts our metabolism, and profoundly impacts our mood, motivation, and sense of well-being.
Research suggests that adults should get at least seven hours of sleep per night (6). A healthy medium is eight hours.
For tips on getting better sleep, check our our previous article: Optimising Sleep for Recovery