The benefits of sleep are incredibly long term and far reaching, not just the obvious day to day grumpiness we feel ourselves and may see in our children if they have not slept well! We all feel the benefits of a good night’s sleep but the benefits really do go so much further than day to day zing!
Although this blog post is nowhere near long enough to set out all the amazing benefits of sleep there are a number of great books on the market that do this in much more detail (I particularly recommend Adriana Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution or Dr Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep), but let’s talk about the benefits of this ‘wonder drug’.
I suspect most people feel sleep is pretty straight forward so you might be surprised to learn that sleep is still a bit of a mystery, a little like the ocean. We know some information, but there is still a huge amount we do not know and it is a relatively ‘new’ area of research. From an evolutionary perspective, the fact that we fall into a near unconscious state for a third of our day, every day doesn’t seem to make much sense but we know sleep plays a vital role in relation to our health and well-being.
Relationships and emotional well-being
We know if we don’t get enough sleep we feel a little less ‘emotionally robust’ and unable to deal with personal relationships. Added to this, if your children are the reason you don’t sleep well, not getting enough sleep can also have a negative impact on your relationship with your children. We have worked with a number of parents who’ve said they even started to feel resentful of their toddlers and older children as they had no time with their partners or alone on an evening.
If you can’t spend time alone with your partner for extended periods of time, either on an evening or been sharing a bed (not through choice) this really can have a knock-on effect on your relationship with your partner – not spending time together, sleeping in separate beds and we all know lack of sleep can make us more irritable, further exacerbating the situation.
When we don’t get enough sleep, we’re likely to get short-tempered and irritable, which just makes everything worse. A study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that subjects who experienced even partial sleep deprivation reported feelings of stress, anger, sadness, and mental exhaustion. (2) An even more recent, 2019 study, by researchers at the University of California Berkley found poor sleep can increase an individual’s emotional stress levels by up to a third. Dr Matthew Walker said ‘without sleep, it is almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake.”
Dr Eti Ben Simon, of the Centre for Human Sleep Science for the university and lead author of the study, stated that the study “suggests insufficient sleep amplifies levels of anxiety and, conversely, that deep sleep helps reduce such stress”. This truly is a must for basic self-care and so necessary in our busy and hectic every day lives!
Health and physical well-being
So we can see how getting enough sleep is essential to learning and emotional well-being, but what about the more tangible benefits? Dr Matthew Walker (in his book) states that he had thought good nutrition, exercise and sleep were the three foundations of health. Following all the research he did for his book he now believes that sleep is the foundation, without which we cannot build solid good health.
People who regularly get between 7-9 hours of sleep experience significantly lower rates of obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, infections, depression, diabetes, inflammation, hypertension, heart disease, heart attacks, and heart failure. They also report better performance at work and take fewer sick days than people who typically sleep less than 7 hours a night. (3)
Lack of sleep is so detrimental to your health that even a few hours less sleep a night, for just a few days, will have a visible impact on your skin. In 2016, Dr Guy Meadows carried out a study ‘The Impact of Sleep on Skin’ (involving Jodi Kidd) and found that for adults, 5 nights of 25% less sleep (6hrs not 8hrs) leads to:
Even if you were not convinced of it’s wonder powers before this study, this alone is enough to ensure a good nights sleep! It will save a fortune in makeup!
Sleep does not need to disappear once you have children
So, there’s no question that sleep is an essential part of a healthy, happy lifestyle and this does not need to change when you have a baby.
I am constantly amazed by the updates I read on social media, or just hear from parents,” I was up three times or five times“ or “I barely slept last night“ and this is almost been accepted as the norm if you have children, or parents are made to feel guilty if they want more sleep (and more sleep for their little one)
There seems to be a commonly held belief that parents should expect to sacrifice their sleep for at least a few years, and that ‘being exhausted’ is simply part and parcel of having children. In my experience this is one of the most problematic myths about parenthood and one of the biggest sabotages of self care.Of course, in the newborn days your little one is unlikely to sleep 12 hours overnight but there is no reason that, once they are old enough to have a full tummy, they should not sleep all night – even waking for a feed or two is a world away from waking hour and needing help to get back to sleep.
The fact is, your baby needs sleep even more than you do. Your little one’s body may look calm while they sleep, but behind the scenes there’s a lot of vital work going on. Growth hormones are being secreted to help your little one gain weight and grow, cytokines are being produced to fight off infections and produce antibodies, and many other intricate systems are at work laying the foundations for growth and development. They will continue to do so throughout adolescence, too, provided they’re given the opportunity.
Your little one can be taught the skills they need to settle and sleep well, helping them to enjoy the many important benefits of sleep – and allowing them to establish a healthy sleep routine for the rest of their lives. Guiding little ones towards great sleep habits really is the best skill you can teach your children and something which will give them the best chance to reach their full potential as they get older.
Jenna Wilson is a mum of 3 children and the founder of Little Dreams Consulting Ltd. She qualified with Sleep Sense in 2016 and the Children’s Sleep Charity in December 2016. She worked for over a decade as a specialist childcare solicitor before changing careers, describing her job as ‘something I am incredibly passionate about - I wanted to be able to share my knowledge and expertise with other families, allowing them to get a better night’s sleep and start enjoying the time they spend together’
If your little one is not sleeping well and you want to help them to sleep well and reap all the benefits good sleep brings just book a free 15 minute chat to talk about working together or visit www.littledreamsconsulting.com for more information.
1 Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, retrieved from healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/ healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory, December 18, 2007
2 Sleep. 1997 Apr;20(4):267-77. Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Dinges DF1, Pack F, Williams K, Gillen KA, Powell JW, Ott GE, Aptowicz C, Pack AI.
3 National Sleep Foundation, 2008 Sleep in America Poll, Summary of Findings retrieved from sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/2008%20POLL%20SOF.PDF