Sleep: For Health and Performance (PART 1 – The Importance of Sleep)

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Our Attitude Toward Sleep

                In today’s fast-paced society, proper sleep seems to be an afterthought – something we do on the weekend or on vacation. We’re often encouraged to increase our work load without any thought given to recovery. We have even created slogans like, “sleep is for the weak,” “sleep is over-rated,” and “sleep is for lazy people.” Whether it’s staying at work late into the night to finish a project or partying hard into the early hours of the morning, there seems to be a macho attitude that people who can go for days without getting proper rest are “strong.” This attitude, and the accompanying sleep deprivation, is having a negative effect on us.  Even the people that understand the benefit of proper rest find it challenging to get enough of it. This blog explores the health and fitness benefits of sleep and the negative consequences of short-term and long-term sleep deprivation.

The Benefits of Proper Sleep (and the Problems Associated with Sleep Deprivation)

Researchers have produced a number of theories on why we sleep. Although there does not seem to be one single correct answer, there is a general consensus on the benefits of proper rest and the negative consequences of insufficient rest over an extended period.

  • Cognitive Restoration (Memory, Learning, Judgement, Focus). Sleep plays a significant role in our ability to process, and retain new information. We take in information when we are awake, but it is consolidated during our sleep. The better our sleep habits the more readily we can access the information we have learned. Our judgement, mindfulness, and vigilance are also affected by the amount and quality of our sleep. With adequate rest, we are in a better position to interpret the world around us, we’re more alert to potential dangers, we’re more focused on the task at hand, and we can make better decisions. Lack of sleep drastically reduces all of those abilities, both in the short- and long-term.


  • Physical Restoration. Just like our minds, our bodies need time for regeneration. This is a very important point for athletes and people with physically challenging occupations (mountain guides, construction workers, etc.). The body recovers from the day’s work when you are sleeping, not when you are awake. Poor sleeping habits over an extended period of time will cause your body to slowly break down. This results in a decrease in performance whether on the jobsite, the field, rink, or court.


  • Immune Function. Sleep is an important regulator of the immune processes that occur in our body. Sleep deprivation has a negative effect on our ability to ward off infections, both in the short-term and the long-term. At first, we become susceptible to low-grade infections like the common cold, but as time moves on and our sleeping patterns (and quality) remain low, we put ourselves at risk for contracting more serious diseases such as influenza. Getting adequate, high-quality sleep goes a long way in ensuring that our bodies can fight off infection.


  • Hormone Regulation. Sleep is linked to hormone regulation much like it is to immune function. When we are sleeping, certain chemicals like human growth hormone (HGH) peak in concentration, while others such as cortisol (the “stress hormone”) are depressed. Poor sleeping patterns disrupt this balance. Also, the production of appetite-controlling hormones such as leptin is negatively affected. This is why prolonged sleep deprivation is strongly linked to diseases such as diabetes and obesity.


It is clear that the proper amount and quality of sleep is important for normal function; without it our health and fitness levels start to decline. So how do we get a good night’s sleep? That will be the topic of my next blog: (PART 2 – How To Improve Your Sleep). I have included a video and various articles on the benefits of proper sleep:


Why Is Getting More Sleep Important?

Why Sleep Matters

Sleep and Immune Function

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism

Can Disrupted Sleep Patterns Cause Hormonal Imbalance?

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