Looking for ways to hack your sleep? Look elsewhere. Sleep deprivation is no longer a badge of honor, no matter how brilliant the tactics you're trying. In short, nothing is as restorative to your health as a good night’s rest.
Here’s a referesher on why you need your eight hours.
Sleep is essential for cardiovascular health
It’s not completely clear why sleep loss hurts your heart, but researchers now know that proper sleep is vital to cardiovascular health, probably because your vascular system gets a break as you slumber.
During deep stages of sleep, your heart rate slows and blood pressure lowers. Miss a few hours of sleep, and your body may not experience that reduction. In REM sleep, the sleep stage when dreaming occurs, your heart rate rises and your blood pressure rises and falls. Experts believe these nighttime fluctuations also promote heart health.
This isn’t just an issue for older folks. Recent research has shown that those who were sleep deprived earlier in life had a greater risk of developing cardiovascular problems down the road.
Missing sleep also causes levels of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones to soar, which keeps your blood pressure elevated — not only while you sleep but into the next day too. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease.
Studies have also found that people with chronic sleep problems have higher levels of C-reactive protein in their blood, which signals inflammation in the body. High levels of C-reactive protein may also increase risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
Sleep strengthens your immune system
As you sleep, your immune system produces cytokines, hormones that help the body fight inflammation and common infections like colds and flu. Skip your sleep and you reduce your body’s ability to produce those infection-fighters.
At the same time, lack of sleep also increases the number of white blood cells, which play an important role in immunity and increase when infection is detected. A small study of 15 healthy men, all under the age of 30, found that their white blood cell counts spiked after sleep deprivation. The level was similar to what your body would produce when you’re under a ton of stress.
Stress has clearly been linked to a weaker immune system.
Sleep increases your pain threshold
Stub your toe after a good night’s rest and swearing loudly is all you need to move on with your day. Stub your toe after a night of tossing and turning, and the pain can feel unbearable. Recent studies have found that lack of sleep may increase the body’s sensitivity to pain.
One study found that, compared with eight hours of sleep, losing four hours of sleep heightens pain sensitivity by 25 percent the next day. Experts believe it may be due to the increased inflammation in the body.
Sleep protects your fertility
If the primary role of sleep is to help repair and rejuvenate the body, it makes sense that sleep loss can wreak havoc on your hormones. Sleep loss has been linked to irregular menstrual cycles, which can affect the ability to conceive.
Women who work an overnight shift and clock less sleep may be at an increased risk for miscarriage and may take longer to conceive. In a British study, nearly one-third of women who worked night shifts had an increased risk of miscarriage.
Women who worked non-traditional hours or changed shifts often reported menstrual irregularities that caused fertility problems — and an 80 percent increased rate of problems trying to conceive.