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  • Writer's pictureDenise Myers, M.Ed. Licensed Psychological Practitioner

The Importance of Prioritizing Sleep Health for Wellness - Part 1

Harmful effects of poor sleep hygiene
Understanding the Critical Role Between Sleep and Health

With the recent Daylight Savings Time and #WorldSleepDay, I thought this was a good time to discuss the current "sleep epidemic" occurring in the U.S. Two-thirds of adults report sleeping less than 7 hours a night (on average). One-third of adults sleep less than 6 hours a night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for most adults. Younger adults and children tend to need more sleep, and older adults need a bit less.

Over the past few decades, the science on the health effects of sleep has skyrocketed, and the message is clear: sleep is absolutely essential for physical health. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Lower risk for cancer, obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and dementia

  • Enhanced immune system (less susceptibility to illnesses, such as the flu)

  • Decreased risk of anxiety and depression

  • Improved cognitive skills (i.e., thinking, memory, decision-making)

That's good news, right? Now, let's briefly discuss why our bodies and brains need a steady 8 hours of sleep every night to function at their best. Sleep is extremely restorative. During wakefulness - the time we're not sleeping - our brains are stressed and working incredibly hard. Sufficient sleep is the one remedy that acts like a reboot of a

computer or an oil change for your car. Our brains need sleep to clear out the clutter and prepare for a new day. When we're in deep sleep, the brain is super busy cleaning house and getting rid of the clutter so it can function effectively and efficiently. This process helps improve our memory and learning for the following day.

Research emphasizes how critical it is to prioritize sleep wellness, as sleep supports all aspects of normal brain and body function. Unfortunately, people who suffer from sleep deprivation can suffer significant health consequences. Poor sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and cardiovascular mortality. Poor sleep can lower immune response, creating greater susceptibility to sickness and infections and reducing sleep quality. Certain sleep disorders are associated with cognitive impairment, dementia, risk of seizures, and a higher risk of stroke. Poor sleep can also result in inattention, reduced reaction times, impaired judgment, and cognitive impairment, similar in effect to alcohol intoxication. Drowsiness can impair safe driving even if the driver does not fall asleep.

So, what's the takeaway? Sleep health and wellness are super important, just like proper nutrition and exercise. They help our brains and bodies stay healthy and work their best. Part 2 of this topic will focus on identifying and treating sleep disorders, potential barriers to good sleep hygiene, and research-based sleep recommendations. Stay tuned, and rest well!

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