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The Impact of Sleep on Your Physical and Mental Health

We all know the benefits of a good night’s sleep. We wake up feeling rested and revitalised, ready to face whatever challenges the day has in store. We tend to be “glass half full” kind of folk, who welcome the world with a smile. In short, a good night’s sleep can make us “morning people”.

So what does the opposite to this sunny optimist look like? Well, you know Scrooge from A Christmas Carol? Kind of like that. Without the Dickensian redemption.

We drool onto our pillows, pressing “snooze” until the last possible minute, before dragging our weary, aching bodies out of bed. We grumble and complain about dawn having the audacity to break and are on the warpath towards partners, kids and neighbours alike until we’ve had our coffee fix. Then, throughout the day, our sleep-deprived selves are less productive, more irritable and basically a little less happy overall.

It’s obvious that getting enough sleep is A Good Idea. But it goes a lot deeper than our mood on a day-to-day basis. In fact, sleep has a major impact on our physical and mental health. And I’m here to show you how…

The physical benefits of sleep

1. It cuts down on sick days

According to Sleepedia, when we’re sleep-deprived, our bodies become more vulnerable to every bug and flu going around. You know those people who seem to be constantly sick? If it’s not a sinus problem, it’s the flu, or a vomiting bug, or whatever mysterious illness is doing the rounds that winter.

These people aren’t just inventing sickness to get out of work (at least, probably not). Nor are they just really, really unlucky…well, they are, but that’s not the only reason! Nope, they’re just poor sleepers.

A lack of sleep can have a big impact on the immune system; in a weakened state it leaves us open to illnesses and less capable of fighting them off. Whereas staying well-rested keeps our internal organs strong ‘n’ healthy, doing their job to keep us out of the sickbay.

2. It keeps us in good shape

Just like physical pain can lead to chronic fatigue, an inability to sleep can lead to bodily discomforts like stiff joints and back ache. When we’re plagued by pains like these, we’re far less motivated to get outside and go for a jog, or attend that yoga class, or do any exercise whatsoever, even though we know it’s good for us.

First of all, because of the physical pain associated with continuous poor sleep. And secondly, because we simply lack the energy needed to get off the couch.

You may or may not be aware of it, but sleep deprivation is linked to pretty serious health conditions, like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

In these cases, a loss of sleep causes the body to resist insulin – which normally helps it to convert glucose into energy. When it fails to work properly, we get high blood sugar. This in turn makes it even harder to sleep (as our minds and bodies are in overdrive) and we’re lethargic the next day. We feel the need to boost our energy levels with sugary snacks or caffeinated drinks, leading us towards unhealthy lifestyles and the risk of disease.

It’s a pretty tricky cycle to break free from, once you’re in its depths. But if you manage to summon the energy to get at least half an hour in of exercise a day, you’ll notice the benefits in no time. Your body will feel more tired (in a good way, like you’ve put it to work!), your mind will feel calmer and you’ll start to notice that your sleep levels improve.

And once that happens you’ll be more capable of making smarter, healthier choices…like making porridge and fruit for breakfast instead of buying out your local donut store.

The mental benefits of sleep

As with many things in life, one begets another. So when your physical health starts to improve – you’re not sick all the time, you’ve got the energy and motivation to exercise and eat right, you’re more confident with your appearance etc – your mental health gets a big boost, too.

Take all the supplements you want; but simply staying rested gives you a more positive outlook on life. Whereas sleep deprivation is both a symptom and a cause of a range of anxiety disorders, from insomnia to depression.

If you get enough, good-quality sleep on a continuous basis, you don’t sweat the small stuff…or the big stuff, either. You’re able to be more mindful in your daily life. You’re not up all night with worries and anxious thoughts. You’re a more tolerant person, with the energy and the mental capacity to care for others in a whole new way.

The result? A brighter, kinder, more optimistic you…who just so happens to be in better physical health, too!

Your relationships, your work life and your own health can improve dramatically as a result of better sleep. So get an early night tonight and wake up a new, happier person come morning.

Sweet dreams!