March 25, 2016 8:00 am
Updated: March 25, 2016 2:25 pm

8 reasons why you should aim for 8 hours of sleep tonight

While you promise you’ll catch up on your sleep on the weekend, it’s not that simple.


You stayed up late watching Netflix, hit the snooze button and relied on coffee to get your workday going. While you promise you’ll catch up on your sleep on the weekend, it’s not that simple.

Getting a good night’s rest helps with concentration, keeping your emotions in check and maintaining a healthy immune system, to name a few benefits.

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“We think of sleep as an altered state of consciousness. We shut down from the environment and part of that is just to block off endless stimulation that we get where the brain is sending messages to activation centres. Sleep is a process that shuts that off so we go to a quiet time,” Dr. Helen Driver, a sleep specialist at Kingston General Hospital,  told Global News.

READ MORE: Interrupted sleep just as bad for you as no sleep at all, study suggests

As your brain rests, your systems are rebooted from memory, to mood, attention and pain management, according to Dr. Colleen Carney, a Ryerson University professor who runs a sleep research lab.

Here are eight reasons why you should be aiming for eight hours of sleep every night.

1. It gives your brain a much-deserved break

Think of your brain as a battery that needs to be recharged every night, Driver says.

Your body relaxes and while it takes a break from the daily grind, it’s still busy care-taking.

“With sleep-deprived animals, their skin wears down, they get ulcers, their whole appearance changes. With people, it’s the same thing. You can easily tell just by looking at someone’s face whether they got enough sleep,” Driver said.

READ MORE: Canadian doctor shares her tips for falling asleep and staying asleep

During bedtime, your skin handles regeneration and elasticity. Lack of sleep only emphasizes inflammation.

2. It helps with memory, alertness and concentration

If you pull an all-nighter before exam day, experts often suggest that you’re better off with getting some sleep before you take your test.

“It backfires because you’re having memory consolidation that only happens at night,” Driver said.

Carney says when you sleep, your brain combs through all of the information you absorbed during the day — what’s important is deposited and the unnecessary details get pruned away.

READ MORE: How the time change affects your internal clock

Daylight Saving Time — which changes your daily schedule by a mere hour — has been tied to car accidents and lack of productivity at work.

Driver says that Queen’s University research has suggested that staying awake for 21 hours (from 8 a.m. to 5 a.m.) leads to driving that’s as impaired as if you were driving with a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit.

3. It regulates your emotions

Feeling cranky, short-tempered and like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed? A rough night’s sleep can do that to you. Canadian research out of Brock University suggests that sleepy people zero in on negativity — when shown pictures, those who were sleep deprived didn’t pay attention to neutral or positive stimuli. The researchers say that sleep loss impairs our ability to process emotional information. We end up with a heightened attention to threat-related facial expressions and can’t gauge sad facial expressions.

READ MORE: Booze before bedtime disrupts restful sleep, scientists suggest

“In terms of dealing with stress, emotional regulation holds the glue together — you might be able to process but you’re flying off the handle,” Driver warned.

Driver says this could explain why sleepy people have trouble with decision-making.

4. It repairs your body and helps you grow

After running a marathon or spending the day on the hiking trail, there’s nothing more rewarding than a deep sleep at night. When you drift off to sleep, your body gets to work with recovering.

“If you’ve been active that day, then growth hormones are released. It restores tissues after a physically demanding day and this is when tissues get repaired and a time when kids will grow,” Carney said.

READ MORE: Scientists uncover cause of bizarre sleeping sickness in Kazakhstan towns

There are two distinct cycles in our sleep — a deep sleep, and then a period of rapid eye movement. As brain waves go from fast and active to slow waves, growth hormones and prolactin (a bonding hormone) are released.

5. It keeps your immune system in check

A lack of sleep can throw your immune system off its game. Research suggests that those who go for long periods of time without consistent sleep are more likely to get sick from a virus, for example. And if you’re already sick with the common cold, lack of sleep could prolong your illness. Your body needs to slow down some of its processes to throw its efforts at getting you healed.

Handfuls of studies have warned about the increased risk of cancer or heart disease from a lack of sleep, too.

READ MORE: Here’s what you should be eating for a good night’s sleep, according to scientists

As the scientific community zeroes in on dementia, doctors suggest that sleep helps to flush the brain and body of toxins while energy reserves are built up again.

“Sleep loss is associated with a build-up of chemicals linked to the brain’s long-term memory and Alzheimer’s disease,” Driver said.

Less sleep also impairs blood and bone maintenance.

6. It regulates your appetite, too

Lack of sleep tampers with your balance of hormones. If you aren’t sleeping well, your metabolism takes a hit, along with your eating routine. You could be grappling with more cravings or even a loss of appetite.

READ MORE: Here’s why your sleepless night is giving you the munchies

“What happens is the hormones stimulating appetite are higher, your satiety is lower and your regulation of feeding messes up. People crave saltier food and higher carbs. We see that in what food you pick when you want to snack,” Carney says.

7. It affects your sexual function

Canadian research suggests that one night of sleep deprivation reduces testosterone in men by 27 per cent from the baseline. Brock University sleep experts say that shift work and sleep disorders are enough to tamper with men’s sexual health and reproduction.

With testosterone levels at play, a good night’s rest also gets your body revved up for a workout, the experts say.

READ MORE: This one tip will improve your sex life, Canadian researcher suggests

8. It alleviates pain

Driver says sleep and pain have a bi-directional relationship — pain disturbs sleep and a lack of sleep increases our perception of pain.

It also affects our mental health. A healthy sleeping schedule keeps our hormones and emotions balanced, while treating sleep disorders can also alleviate symptoms of mental health issues, the experts say.

“One night of not sleeping well is not a catastrophe,” Driver says. It’s a pattern of lack or, or interrupted sleep that you should be watchful for.

If you’re dealing with shift work or irregular hours, try your best to maintain a routine.

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