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The Importance of Sleep


Quality sleep is as essential as water and food. While its biological purpose remains somewhat of a mystery, research shows that sleep does affect almost all types of tissues and systems in the human body, including the brain, heart, lungs, metabolism, immune function and disease resistance. Not sleeping enough or receiving poor quality sleep increases the risk of disorders - from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease to depression and obesity. But why?

At SpaceFoam, we are interested in uncovering the truths behind sleep. How much should we really be sleeping every night? How does our lack of sleep affect our day- to-day performance?
Before we dive into the answers, we find it crucial to understand how our brains function while we are asleep. The hypothalamus, a peanut-sized structure in the brain, and the brain stem communicate to control the transitions between wake and sleep. Together, they produce GABA, a brain chemical that reduces the activity of arousal centers. The brain stem also sends signals to relax our muscles, body posture and limb movements, so we don’t act out our dreams.
Our bodies use something called Sleep-Wake Homeostasis, which keeps track of our need to sleep. This drive, strengthening every hour, reminds our bodies to sleep after a certain amount of time. This is why you feel drowsy after a long day.
Lastly, our circadian rhythms, also known as our body’s biological clocks, control our sleep timing and are affected by weather, light and other environmental cues. It can explain why you sleep when it’s dark out and wake up to light.
Now that we know how we sleep, let’s learn why it’s so important. When we sleep, Cerebral Spinal fluids are pumped throughout our brain, acting like a vacuum cleaner to whisk away waste products. This junk has been linked to various diseases, most commonly dementia, so we’d be in some trouble if it wasn’t cleaned out. Our brains also restore the information that was ingrained during the day. This allows for more protection against memory loss and boosts our abilities to learn while awake. Even more so, it preserves important memories and helps us keep our chronology straight, so we can establish the order in which things occurred. Most importantly, sleep helps us make decisions, pay attention, learn and be creative. It allows us to be the most productive we can be.
While enough sleep is advantageous, the inverse is also true. Not sleeping enough at night can lead to physical and mental health issues. Studies show that children and teens who are sleep deficient may feel angry, impulsive, and have a difficult time getting along with others. If that isn’t convincing enough, sleep-deprived individuals have proven to be less productive at work, take more time to complete tasks, have slower reaction times and make more mistakes.
So how much sleep is enough sleep? It is slightly different for everyone, but scientists and doctors alike recommend at least eight hours a night. This will give our brains enough time to restore, refresh and replenish, leaving us feeling energetic and ready to start a new day. And if you are feeling super inspired, research has shown that an afternoon nap also can improve productivity, boost your mood and ease stress.
So what are you waiting for? Go crawl under the covers. You’ll thank yourself later.
SpaceFoam is a California-based bedding company and a NMSI supporter. Learn more at spacefoam.com.

Sophie Hecht is a researcher at SpaceFoam.