Unfortunately, modern Western society tends to view sleep as being, at best, something that is at the bottom of our never-ending list of priorities, and at worst, something that’s only for wimps! Along with what we put into our bodies, namely food and water, sleep is critically important if we want to maintain our wellbeing and live long healthy lives.

Evolution of Sleep

Human beings have evolved over more than 3.5 million years, to a point where we need to sleep for around one-third of our lives. When we do not get enough sleep, and when I say enough, I mean enough deep, slow wave (non REM) sleep, our brains do not have enough time to clean themselves out each night. Our brains need to have a beautiful bath in cerebrospinal fluid each night to be cleaned and ready for all that they need to do the next day!

When our brains don’t get their bath during deep sleep phases, they start to function with the same level of impairment as having a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.05! The reason it is illegal to drive with this kind of BAC is due to the impairment of your brain’s functionality. How much more wonderful change could humanity achieve if only more people got enough sleep?! Unfortunately, this is a modern phenomenon, with average hours of sleep reducing by 20% over the last 60-70 years. In the 1940s most people got just under 8 hours of sleep each night, currently, the average is only 6.5 hours! Let’s not forget that because this is an average figure it does mean that there are many, many people out there who get a lot less sleep than this – I really hope they take public transport because I certainly don’t want to be sharing the road with them!

Sleep expert Prof Matthew Walker calls this “the global sleep loss epidemic” and says that it is the biggest public health challenge being faced throughout the world at the moment.

What else does not having enough sleep do to us?

Thousands of studies have been completed showing that the quality and quantity of our sleep affects the function of our brains, and in turn our hormone levels, and in turn the way our genes express themselves, and most importantly, in turn, how long we live. Matthew Walker describes not getting enough sleep as a slow form of euthanasia! And if you do live a reasonably long life, chronic lack of sleep greatly increases the risk of developing dementia.

Sleep, Food, and Movement

Sleep also plays a big role in our relationships with Food and Movement (2 of the other aspects of my approach, Evenstar 5 Star Wellbeing). This relationship is perfectly bi-directional. When we sleep well, our brains function optimally and we have the motivation to eat the right foods and to prioritize moving our bodies. If we don’t eat good food or move our bodies we tend not to sleep well! Delving deeper into the functions and processes of the brain, we understand that lack of sleep means that the body remains in fight or flight mode and our cells hold onto fat. This is because your brain doesn’t know when we might need fat to survive – making weight loss much more difficult. Lack of sleep also reduces our motivation to move, again the brain is telling the body to reserve energy because it is tired and is being hypervigilant about impending danger that you may need to escape from. Then indeed if you do push yourself to do some exercise despite being tired, you are much more likely to injure yourself. With sleep deprivation, the efficiency of respiration is also depleted so your work out is more difficult and less enjoyable! Again, we go into a negative cycle!

The moral of the story here is: prioritize sleep. It is not a luxury or a weakness, it is a necessity that will enable you to have a happy, a healthy, and a long life.

Originally published at blog.sivanaspirit.com