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Everything you need to live well

Sleep Is Your Superpower

A woman sitting up in bed | Image: Adobe Stock Photo Adobe Stock

Did you know that you have the ability to reduce your chances of having a car accident, improve your ability to fight off illnesses, and decrease your risk factors for cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s?

Yes. Everyone has that superpower; in fact, we use it every day – sleep. Sleep is one of the most powerful activities that our bodies undergo. Often times, sleep is thought of as a passive process in which we merely lay in bed and wake up the next morning, with nothing happening in between. This could not be farther from the truth.


What goes on when we sleep?
When we sleep, our eyes close, and muscles relax. We gradually lose consciousness and our body cycles from one stage of sleep into the other – Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and REM sleep and back again. Each cycle takes about 90 minutes. We cycle between these stages about 5 times every night. During this period, your body undergoes repairs after the rigorous activities of the day.

It is vital for learning and for the formation of new memories, growth, and development. The American Society of Sleep Medicine advises adults to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Getting even an hour less than 7 hours in a night increases your chances of making errors or getting in an accident and it even significantly increases your risk of dying from a heart attack.

It is often said that the pillars of good health are diet, exercise and sleep. Matthew Walker, a professor of Sleep at the University of California further argues that sleep is the foundation for all the other pillars. Have you noticed that when you do not get enough sleep, you often reach for sugary carbohydrate foods? Sleep controls the types of foods your body will crave for. During sleep, the production of leptin (the hormone responsible for satiety) is increased and ghrelin (the hormone responsible for hunger) is suppressed.

Good sleep helps you make better decisions
Another benefit of sleep is the ability to make better decisions. We often make use of the phrase ‘I’ll sleep over it’, this is an apt recognition of the ability to made useful connections and decisions after sleep. After a good night’s rest, you will often wake up alert and be better prepared to take on the new day, and this includes making smart food choices.

Good sleep protects your heart
A lack of sleep puts you at risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks, strokes, arrhythmias and heart failure. In a 2011 study, it was reported that lack of sleep increases a person’s risk of getting or dying from cardiovascular disease by 45%. When we sleep, the heart relaxes and starts to pump blood at a lower pressure. However, when you do not get enough sleep, your blood pressure goes up and your heart does not relax. This is partly why people who do not get enough sleep are at higher risk of high blood pressure or hypertension.

Good sleep helps boost your immune system
In a study carried out in the US, where they deliberately infected test subjects with another type of Coronavirus (rhinovirus- responsible for the common cold), it was observed that subjects who got at least 7 or more hours of sleep at night were 4 times not likely to be infected. While those who got less than 7 hours, were reported to have a lower number of T- killer cells responsible for eliminating foreign invaders from the body. The immune system is particularly boosted during slow-wave sleep stage (stage 3). The brain clears amyloid proteins through the lymphatic system during sleep. The presence of these proteins has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep deprivation can be fatal
Sleep deprivation increases a person’s risk of developing cancer, it suppresses the immune system, and it reduces the brain’s ability to retain and process memories. You are more prone to moodiness, forgetfulness, difficulty with concentration, high levels of stress and inflammatory hormones, anxiety and a substantial decrease in immune function. I encourage you to take full use of this superpower and get more sleep.

In this article:
Dr Olusola OguntoluSleep
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