April 23-29 has been set forth by The National Sleep Foundation as National Sleep Week. The National Sleep Foundation has made it their goal to ensure that each and every American is aware of the positive effects of healthful sleep – and the negative effects that can be caused by sleep deprivation, low-quality sleep, and sleep debt.
Nurses are well aware of the importance of sleep – after working a double shift, we’re probably more aware of it than anybody else! But still, nurses often suffer from sleep deprivation – especially when we’re just starting out careers. Sleep deprivation in nurses can lead to poor patient outcomes, low quality of life, and numerous other negative effects.
So, in an effort to boost awareness of the importance of quality sleep during National Sleep Awareness Week, we’ve put together a quick list of the 5 biggest ways that quality sleep impacts your health and well-being. Take a look. (And consider taking a nap afterward, if you need to!)
- Sleep Organizes Your Brain – And Helps You Stay Focused
Nurses know the struggles of sleep deprivation. Certainly, you’ve found yourself totally zoning out in the break room after a 16-hour shift – you may feel scatterbrained, unable to focus, or even unable to recall basic short-term memories.
There’s a reason for that. Sleep provides the brain an opportunity to rest, reorganize itself, and process the information that you’ve gathered during the day. The exact mechanisms by which this is done are still a bit of a mystery – but there is quite a bit of evidence that sleep is the primary means by which the brain keeps itself healthy and organized.
When you have high-quality sleep, you provide your brain with the rest it needs to perform at peak efficiency – and when you’re sleep-deprived, the opposite occurs. You’ll feel slow, sluggish, and scatterbrained.
So sleep well – and stay focused. Your patients depend on you.
- Quality Sleep Bolsters The Immune System
Sleep and circadian functions have been shown to have a massive impact on immune system function. It has been shown that lack of sleep can damage the body’s ability to fight off the common cold, influenza, and other infectious diseases.
This is because long periods of sleep deprivation suppress the body’s natural immune function. It has been shown that a lack of sleep can cause a lower level of T-cells – one of the primary lymphocytes involved in fighting viral and bacterial infections.
Simply put, the longer you go without sleep, the more likely you’ll be to come down with a cold, flu, or other illness. Nurses should be especially careful about this – exposure to infectious diseases is common, and an immune system compromised by lack of sleep can lead to a higher risk of infection.
- Sleep Is When Your Body Can Repair Itself
Sleeping may seem like a time of rest for your body – but that’s far from the truth. Your body remains incredibly active while you sleep – just not in the way you might think. For example, the low muscle tone provided by sleep allows your body to repair itself.
When you sleep, your body begins releasing hormones that encourage tissue growth and repair – leading to an increased ability to heal from cuts and other minor injuries. Your muscles will also repair themselves during this time – which is essential if you enjoy working out and live an active lifestyle.
- Sleep Keeps Your Heart Healthy
Your heart is a muscle, just like any other – and sometimes, it needs a break. Your heart doesn’t stop pumping while you sleep, of course – but sleep allows your blood pressure to dip significantly, and reduces stress on your heart.
This allows your heart to repair itself and stay healthy. The low blood pressure common during sleep also reduces stress on your blood vessels, reducing inflammation and providing an ideal time during which blood vessels can be rebuilt.
The simple act of sleeping is one of the best things you can do to stimulate a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. So don’t neglect your sleep – catch some extra “Zs” and keep your body in tip-top shape.
- Quality Sleep Promotes Mental Health
This is probably no surprise to most nurses. The state of mental exhaustion caused by night shifts or constant double-shifts is familiar to all of us. Failing to get enough sleep negatively impacts your mood and your mental health.
You’ll become irritable and forgetful – and could be at an increased risk of chronic mental health problems like bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders, according to Harvard Health. It’s estimated that 50-80% of patients undergoing psychiatric treatment have difficulties sleeping – compared to only 10-18% of the US general population. The specific reason this is the case is still under study, but the takeaway is clear – failing to get enough sleep can lead to a poor overall mental state, and could contribute to serious psychological and mental health problems.
Don’t Neglect Your Sleep! Stay Happy, Stay Healthy!
When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, getting plenty of high-quality sleep is absolutely crucial. While it can be difficult for many nurses to do so, – check out this guide for some tips – it’s well worth the additional effort.
So think about how you can squeeze in an extra nap, or change your schedule to get your daily recommended sleep allowance. If you do, you’ll find that your life changes for the better – you’ll feel happier, healthier, and stronger.
So take a look at these 5 health effects – and spread the word about the importance of sleep during National Sleep Awareness Week. Together, we can promote a happier, healthier populace – and better sleep outcomes for everyone!