Humans, including Productivity Ninjas, sleep an average one-third of their lifetime. Eight hours of sleep is a third of the day, and after 100 years on this earth, that equals a total of 33 years spent sleeping. While many see this as a loss of time, doctors and wellness coaches will see this as a healthy lifestyle choice, and a life well lived. But does sleeping eight hours every night really improve our health? Can sleep improve our productivity and make us happier people? According to the experts: eight hours of sleep a day will keep the doctor away (well, generally speaking).
Sleep to improve physical health
The recommended amount of sleep for those over 20 years old is seven to eight hours, uninterrupted. Why is an average eight hours of sleep so good for adults?
Luckily, researcher love to investigate sleep, and thousands of studies have been performed on why sleep is so beneficial for the body and mind. One of the biggest collection of sleep studies in history was released in 2010 and collected over a 25 year span in Italy and the UK.
“Researchers in the United Kingdom and Italy analyzed data from 16 separate studies conducted over 25 years, covering more than 1.3 million people and more than 100,000 deaths. They published their findings in the journal Sleep. Those who generally slept for less than six hours a night were 12 percent more likely to experience a premature death. People who slept more than eight to nine hours per night had an even higher risk, at 30 percent.”
Healthy sleep has not only been correlated to an increased lifespan, but it has also been shown to boost your immune system through the creation of hormones only produced when you’re asleep. These hormones are called cytokines and they help combat inflammation and prevent infections. Eight hours of sleep can also improve a person’s appetite, making them less likely to overeat, and can help in memory retention. Over a longer period of time, this can lower a person’s risk for chronic illness associated with stress and obesity; such as heart disease or diabetes.
Sleep to improve mental health
But besides an increased health risk from adequate sleep, getting a solid eight hours can improve your mental health considerably as well. The Harvard Health Publication released an overview of studies in 2009 that looked at the symbiotic relationship between the brain and our sleep patterns. According to multiple research, those that suffer from mental health disorders have an increased risk in sleep disorders, but sleep may also play a part in the development of those disorders.
In other words, not sleeping an adequate eight hours might cause mental health issues in a person’s lifetime, and those conditions might further interrupt a person’s sleep patterns; creating a vicious mental cycle of not enough sleep and poor mental health.
Harvard Health Publication wrote in their overview: “The brain basis of a mutual relationship between sleep and mental health is not yet completely understood. But neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.”
Sleep to improve your mood
A solid eight hours of sleep can obviously do wonders for the body, both mentally and physically, but further research has shown that those that sleep eight hours regularly are more productive and happier. During short-term sleep loss, those who are deprived of sleep are found to be more irritable, angry, and more prone to depression. Over a longer period of time, say months of only six hours of sleep, people generally are less likely to get enthusiastic over achievements, and are generally less friendly or empathetic.
Psychology Today notes the more complex explanation for poor mood in relation to lack of sleep: “…some research suggests that sleep deprivation enhances negative mood due to increased amygdala activity (a brain structure integral to experiences of negative emotions such as anger and rage) and a disconnect between the amygdala and the area of the brain that regulates its functions. In other words: sleep loss leads to increased negative mood, and decreased ability to regulate that anger!”
Hospital workers are a common subject for sleep deprivation studies, as nurses and doctors often work long, ridiculous hours, with interrupted and short sleep patterns. Psychology Today notes that if your doctor is grumpy or gruff, it’s very likely that they haven’t had adequate sleep for some time, and their attitudes shouldn’t be taken personally. Additionally, after a short night of sleep, people should avoid getting into heated arguments!
Easy Ways to improve your sleep
Now with all this convincing research, how can a person guarantee themselves a healthy night of sleep?
The best advice is simple: avoid stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine; schedule sleep time; get comfy; and avoid looking at smart phones before bed! Phones, televisions, and other LED products emit light pollution that prevents brains from producing melatonin; an essential hormone that’s needed for sleep. Avoiding these products will help brains and bodies fall asleep naturally, and will improve our health because of it!
How much sleep do you get every night? To be more productive, happier, and healthier, do your best to sleep seven to eight hours every night. It’s easier than you think, and your body will be thankful for the help.
By Katie McBeth
Katie McBeth is a researcher hailing from Boise, ID. She enjoys reading teen novels, eating mac ‘n cheese, and seeing the world through her camera lense. Her love for reading is only trumped by her love for cats, of which she has three. She also has a dog, and he helps keep her grounded. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.