Rest Up: Sleep Powers Your Social Life

Between our jobs, our social lives, exercising and family obligations, it’s all too easy to sacrifice sleep to accommodate our overbooked schedules. 

Man in a spin class

The problem with that strategy is that sleep provides the energy you need to power back up for another busy day.

You can’t perform at your best unless you give your body time to rejuvenate during sleep, says Rachel Salas, M.D. , an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The Restorative Power of Sleep

Scientists are still figuring out everything that happens in our brains and bodies while we catch our nightly ZZZs, says Salas. But it’s clear that sleep is important for locking in memories and pruning unnecessary details that can clutter your thinking. “We believe that when you’re sleeping, your brain is getting rid of information you no longer need,” Salas explains – freeing up brainpower for the memories and details that matter.

Sleep also gives your body a chance to refresh itself, Salas adds. “Sleep is a time when the systems in the body wind down and rest.”

Sleep deprivation can impact your health and wellness in a number of ways. Regularly skipping sleep can:

  • Negatively affect your immune system. “If you’re sleep deprived, it can decrease your ability to fight infection,” Salas says.

  • Alter appetite hormones and cause weight gain

  • Ruin your mood and make you irritable. “That can spill over and impact your relationships,” Salas says.

  • Interfere with memory and productivity

  • Increase the risk of medical problems such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Most healthy adults should aim to sleep 7 to 9 hours every night. Think you can get by with less? You might be fooling yourself.

“A lot of professionals believe that they’re short sleepers who need 6 hours or less. The truth is, that’s not very common,” Salas says. Often people who think they need less sleep are just good at compensating for the effects of sleep deprivation – for now. Chances are, though, that their sleep deficit will catch up with them eventually, she says.

You might be wondering if you can shortchange your sleep during the busy week and catch up on weekends. “Many sleep specialists believe you can never truly make up for chronic lost sleep,” Salas says.

While getting in some extra sleep can help you recuperate after an occasional sleepless night, it’s not a wise strategy in the long term. Sleeping in or taking naps on days off can increase the odds of developing insomnia and can lead to problems with the natural circadian rhythms that drive your sleep patterns, Salas says.

Make Sleep a Priority

Want to find ways to fit more sleep into your life? Here are some tools to try:

  • Start small: Try going to bed just 10 to 15 minutes earlier. If you’re still feeling sleepy during the day, push your bedtime back another 15 minutes.
  • Limit naps: To protect the quantity and quality of your nighttime sleep, cap daytime naps at 20 to 30 minutes, and don’t nap later than 3 p.m.
  • Avoid caffeine: Limit caffeine in the late afternoon so you’re sleepy when bedtime rolls around.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can help improve sleep.
  • Make it a habit: Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, and try to go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day.

“A lot of people see sleep as a luxury. But the bottom line is, sleep matters,” Salas says. “Only you can make sleep a priority.”

Does Exercising at Night Mess with Sleep?

Exercise is important for a healthy body and mind, and staying active can also improve your sleep quality. But could exercising too close to bedtime wind you up and impair your slumber? Probably not.

Research and survey data suggest that in most people, nighttime exercise doesn’t negatively affect sleep quality. If the evening is the best time to fit in your workout, give it a try. If you find you’re still wide-eyed at bedtime, you might want to exercise earlier in the evening. But evidence suggests that most people sleep better when they exercise, no matter what time of day they do it.

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