Sleep is a basic and absolutely necessary need. But we all know that, as parents, a full session of serious shuteye is rarely possible. If you have little ones, you probably forgot what it feels like to be fully rested. But when it happens, it can freshen your body, senses, and mind. So as a reminder, here are some wonderful changes that occur when you actually get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep.
You stop being such a grump.
Ever notice that when you're low on sleep, everything agitates the heck out of you? You want to throw rocks at the cheerful birds singing outside the moment you wake up. Every driver out there is tying to make you late for work. Your kid's "cute" singing grates on your last nerve.
It's no surprise, really. Just one night of subpar sleep causes changes in the brain that make you more irritable, angry, and unfriendly. Chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to depression and other psychiatric disorders.
Nobody wants to struggle through the day in a bad mood, so do yourself (and the people around you) a favor and sleep like you're supposed to.
You stop overreacting.
When you're not well rested, things seem a lot worse than they really are. Your brain hasn't recovered fully. Research (and your own experience) shows this can cause a drastic emotional disconnect. The smallest negative occurrence triggers an overreaction. You just can't handle anything and become that crazy drama queen everyone (even you) wants to avoid. Don't be that person!
You lose weight (finally).
If you're low on sleep, certain hormones are thrown out of whack, which can lead to overeating and increased cravings for high-calorie, sugary, fatty foods. This also affects your metabolism and the stress hormone cortisol, which makes your body hold on to belly fat. Not to mention you're obviously going to be tired and unlikely to stick to an exercise regimen.
The ultimate effect of this imbalance can be seen in a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine showing that insufficient sleep undermines fat loss efforts. Researchers found that individuals who spent 8.5 hours in bed lost 55% more fat than those getting 5.5 hours. Additionally, the sleep-deprived lost 60% more muscle mass (a bad thing).
You stop being so brainless.
If you're lacking rest, you just can't think straight. You're going to be less productive and make dumb mistakes. Your brain just doesn't function well. You may make comical errors (like putting your keys in the fridge), but those mindless mistakes could be completely disastrous if you work in a life-critical position, such as a doctor or nurse.
Additionally, a well-rested brain is critical for learning and memory. Research shows students who get the recommended amount of sleep the night before an exam get better grades than their sleep deprived counterparts. All-night study sessions aren't the smartest strategy. This makes sense, since a tired brain struggles to learn and recall information.
You're less likely to get sick.
Lack of sleep is a key contributor to immume deficiency. A study published in Sleep Medicine revealed that even one night of reduced sleep alters immune markers, making you more susceptible to infections and viruses like the common cold and flu.
Prioritizing sleep could make the difference between crashing or cruising through sick season. Even if you do get sick, you'll recover faster. So start giving your body what it needs to fight fiercely and get your nightly dose of vitamin Z.
You're a better driver.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that driving while sleepy is responsible for at least 72,000 crashes in a year and accounts for up to 10% of total crashes. In fact, driving drowsy is the cognitive equivalent of driving drunk, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
We're pretty terrible at perceiving our own sleep-drunk state as we gulp down our grande lattes and tell ourselves we're totally okay. Stop putting yourself and others in danger and get your sweet slumber!
You hurt less.
An adequate daily dose of sleep could reduce your pain pill-popping habit. A study in Arthritis & Rheumatology specifically showed poor sleep quality increases intensity of pain. Lack of sleep increases inflammation, which affects everything from pain levels to joint health to risk of heart disease and diabetes. Chronically sleep-deprived individuals even have a much higher likelihood of developing painful conditions like fibromyalgia.
You can become an awesome athlete.
Okay, maybe you won't reach Olympian status overnight, but the evidence is in: you snooze, you win! Multiple studies have demonstrated a link between increased sleep and improved athletic performance. One experiment published in the journal Sleep showed positive effects of extended sleep in collegiate basketball players. With a goal of 10 hours (yes, 10!) of sleep per night, players improved spring times and shooting accuracy. The athletes also reported a sharper mental game and feeling physically better overall.
So, it's pretty clear, there are a ton of benefits to getting more sleep at night. As parents, this is easier said than done, but try to prioritize as best you can. The benefits are well worth it!
LJ Kunkel is a mom of 3 who writes about health, fitness and parenting. She keeps her head on straight by working out, getting stuck in yoga poses and hiding all the chocolate.
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Visit the Saint Louis Science Center for Science at Sunset on Thursdays this summer. Enjoy food and drink specials, live music in the Science Center's outdoor exhibit, GROW, a working urban farm that tells the story of the science behind the food we eat, free admission to the limited-time exhibit GameXPloration, and discounted tickets to other attractions.
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