A lot has been said over the years about sleep and numerous experiments have been conducted in the past, trying to decode one of the most mysterious of human activities. Questions such as, do we really need to sleep? How long must we sleep? Or do men sleep less? have all been common pieces in the complex jigsaw of sleep behaviour.
It wasn’t until recently that scientists have finally come up with a theory that attempts to answer these common interrogations. A study conducted in Finland has finally thrown some light on the matter of sleep. After studying 3,760 participants for over a 7-year period, scientists were able to arrive at more specific conclusions.
Breaking down the Data
This research suggests that the ideal sleeping time is slightly different in men and women; whereas boys need 7.8 hours, women make-do with 7.6. But what do these figures mean anyway? According to this study, people who meet their daily sleep quota, regardless of their sex, are less likely to fall ill.
Relevance of Proper Sleep
Besides the evident need for rest, sleep is relevant to our health for several reasons:
Healthy-looking Skin: It is now a scientific fact: skin cells rejuvenate while we sleep. Those seemingly passive hours are actually a time of skin renewal that is triggered by the chemical activity going on during slumber.
Another way skin can be improved while we sleep involves hormones. Proper hormonal balance can improve the overall quality of our skin. It is a well-known fact that certain systems, such as the nervous, vascular and hormonal, must be evenly-balanced in order to ensure healthy functioning.
Weight-management: Sleep-deprived individuals are seriously affected in their metabolic rate. So much so, that it is now clear why some people find it difficult to put off weight, even when dieting or exercising. According to a UK study, people who sleep less than 7 hours are twice as likely to be overweight. Similarly, when we sleep less, we become tired more easily. This in turn, activates a compensation behaviour mode that leads us to overeat, especially sugary foods, in order to get an energy boost.
Well-being and satisfaction: Research conducted at the University of Michigan, USA concludes that 6 out of 10 individuals who suffer from insomnia will suffer from depression at some point in their lives. Moreover, when compared with other life milestones, an extra hour of sleep can be even worthier than a pay-rise. Finally, a good night’s sleep accounts for success in other areas, such as personal relationships or deeper family bonds.
Mental clarity: High-stress jobs usually include getting enough sleep as part of the professional requirements. Air-traffic controllers, neurosurgeons and fire fighters, for instance, are all required to sleep a certain number of hours before they can actually perform a certain task. We tend to overlook essential details, or make bad calls when we have slept less than was needed.
Who is to Blame, then?
Far from being a personal choice, lack of sleep occurs because of several reasons. According to Australia’s Sleep health Foundation, these are the most common reasons why people sleep less than they should:
Bad Habits: these habits include bad diets (too much caffeine or large late-night meals) and unusual working shifts.
Technology: Much of the stress caused at nighttime comes from the excessive use of technological devices we use before bedtime. Computers, tablets, cell phones, TV sets and other devices over stimulate our senses, leaving us feeling wasted or else, disturbing our sleep patterns.
Stress and Anxiety: Emptying our heads before bedtime is a useful exercise if we are to get a good night’s sleep. Furthermore, checking the clock and counting sleeping hours is a sure way of messing with healthy sleep.