Rest and sleep are highly researched, yet still mysterious in their own rights. Over the years, many scientists have studied this essential activity that all animals participate in. Although the definitive reason why we sleep is yet to be agreed upon, physiologically and biochemically speaking, this complex activity has a number of benefits including:
Bodily restoration – tissue growth and repair, protein synthesis
Battle pathogens – sleep deprivation diminishes immune-fighting capabilities, including those of the Natural Killer cells
Solidify memories – new material is committed to memory
Tweak metabolism – sleep affects how our bodies metabolize and store food items such as carbs; further, hormones that affect our appetites can be greatly altered by improper sleep
Pruning weakened or unnecessary synapses – during rest, our bodies repair dysfunctional cells, such as those within our nervous system
Mood regulation – certain hormones, produced only during sleep, affect our mental and emotional well-being—ever encountered a grumpster and then realized they just needed some sleep?
General safety – lack of sleep is associated with greater risk of falls, accidents and impaired judgment
Cardiovascular health – certain diseases related to cardiac dysfunction such as hypertension and arrhythmias have been linked to disordered sleeping habits
Gut health – rest & digest—enough said!
A recent and intriguing interpretation as to why sleep is important, relates solely to brain health. The term “brain plasticity” refers to the changes that occur within the brain and CNS during rest—such as those mentioned above as well as the ability to carry out tasks at peak performance. A wonderful example is that of newborns and infants who sleep the majority of their new lives away, 12 to 18 hours per day! This optimizes brain development for later in life. In total, there is good reason why we humans spend up to one-third of our lives asleep. Optimal brain health is motivation alone for packing away those Z’s, don’t you think?
From a simpler standpoint, people typically agree that a good night’s sleep or a quick cat nap absolutely makes us feel better—more awake, more alert, and healthier overall. Disorders in sleep quality and quantity can be detrimental to both the physical and mental realms of health. Researchers at Harvard support the notion that sleep is indeed vital to our health, safety and longevity—even if we aren’t quite sure of the exact nature of this basic behavior. So it’s no longer just about being grumpy, there are a whole host of health detriments that may manifest with improper rest. Thankfully, there are a number of functional medicine tests to evaluate these facets of health in order to ensure the optimization of your ability to rest.
2011 is the perfect time to test up and rest up, your body will thank you!