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Why is sleep so important, and what can affect it?

Art by Dawn Malliagh

Sleep is a very important part of life. Every morning, you wake up, hopefully, refreshed and more energized than the night before. Not getting sufficient sleep each night also has many significant side effects that can negatively impact you. Events such as daylight savings may also affect your sleep schedule multiple times yearly.

Why is sleep so important? While you might think that your brain is inactive during sleep, it is engaging in important activities for your health and well-being. According to the CDC: “Your body makes different hormones at different times of the day. This may be related to your sleep pattern or your circadian clock. In the morning, your body releases hormones that promote alertness, such as cortisol, which helps you wake up. Other hormones have 24-hour patterns that vary throughout your life; for example, in children, the hormones that tell the glands to release testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone are made in pulses at night, and the pulses get bigger as puberty approaches.” Your circadian cycle is a 24-hour cycle in your body that regulates levels of alertness and sleepiness. Along with this, sleep can also impact your immune system, breathing, and the handling of fat in your body. Without proper sleep, side effects such as decreased response to insulin can cause a rise in blood sugar and result in diabetes, increased food consumption, and decreased physical activity. These side effects can also lead to more long-term issues such as obesity.

Items such as food can affect sleep as well. In fact, according to the New York Times: “Researchers have found that eating a diet that is high in sugar, saturated fat, and processed carbohydrates can disrupt your sleep, while eating more plants, fiber, and foods rich in unsaturated fat — such as nuts, olive oil, fish and avocados — seems to have the opposite effect, helping to promote sound sleep.” Having a good diet is already incredibly important to living healthy, and eating too much junk food can already lead to serious health problems. If a poor diet can also lead to a loss in or worsened sleep, which in turn can lead to even more severe health issues, then eating healthily is that much more important. The New York Times also stated: “Scientists have found that as people lose sleep, they experience physiological changes that can nudge them to seek out junk food. In clinical trials, healthy adults who are allowed to sleep only four or five hours a night end up consuming more calories and snacking more frequently throughout the day. They experience significantly more hunger and their preference for sweet foods increases.” With this in mind, not having enough sleep can increase the consumption of junk food, which can then lead to less sleep, causing an unhealthy and unending loop.

Other things, such as time changes and school schedules can also affect sleep. According to Michigan University, “This one-hour sleep loss is associated with significantly more motor vehicle accidents as well as cardiac events. When our clocks move backward, we might think that an extra hour helps us. But our sleep patterns are disrupted by any change like this, so the fall time change may also lead to negative health impacts.” Our sleep schedule is often a uniform thing that can be greatly affected by even a single-hour change. Because of this, it is important to be careful and prepared for the two dates each year when we shift our clock by an hour.

Overall, sleep is an incredibly integral part of our everyday lives and can be affected by many things. The lack of sleep can also cause significant issues in our bodies. Because of this, it is crucial to manage a healthy diet, and to be careful when changing schedules or in situations such as daylight savings.

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1 Comment

Reda Rountree
Reda Rountree
May 24, 2023

Very well-written and researched!

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