Two ways more sleep can benefit your health

Work Wisdom

Two ways more sleep can benefit your health

Sleeping long and well is one of the best things you can do for your health. Without it, you break down, literally and figuratively. With it, your bod gets a boost, and your performance improves in pretty much everything. Here are two stories that illustrate the virtues of slumber:

This is the final installment in our series on Healthy Living Basics for Everyone. The sanely paced plan helps you with nutrition, exercise and lifestyle and includes a mental component that helps clarify goals and identify what might hold you back.

1. College traditions transition
In 2018, for the first time, Harvard asked incoming freshman by move-in day to take an interactive online sleep course designed by the university’s faculty. The reason: College students tend to treat sleep like a nuisance, not a necessity — though they’re definitely not the only ones.

“In academic environments, sleep deficiency can be a makeshift metric for achievement, with students boasting of how little shut-eye they get. Students often associate academic success with effort, and perhaps the most notorious and grueling rite of passage is the all-nighter,” according to The Harvard Gazette. “The reality, obvious with hindsight and a good night’s sleep, is that all-nighters rarely produce the sought-after As, and no quantity of coffee can make one a better reader or writer.”

2. Athletic skills improve
Eleven players from Stanford University’s varsity basketball team (healthy men, about 19 years old) participated in a sleep study several years ago. Researchers found when the elite athletes got 8.5 hours of sleep per night as opposed to 6.5 hours, their sprint times were .7 seconds faster, and their free-throw and three-point shooting accuracy improved by about 9%. Pretty impressive for athletes already at the top of their game, who have narrower margins for improvement.

And here’s a lesser-known perk tied to sleep that might convince you to prioritize shut-eye: The best temperature range for good sleep is 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But there might be a Goldilocks temp: Try snoozing at 66 degrees for even more benefits. A recent study suggests it could boost your metabolic health.

Still, there’s wiggle room to figure out how to make sleep work best for you, specifically when it comes to your sleep window.

As a rule, our bodies are alert during the day, and they dial things down when darkness sets in. We follow a circadian rhythm — generally. Turns out your (or my, or anyone else’s) internal clock could be skewed (think “early birds” versus “night owls”). When that happens, the body’s production of melatonin, which is what makes you feel sleepy, could be slow to start. That means you might not feel drowsy at lights-out time. Or melatonin might still be in your system when you should feel ready to take on the day. Try this quiz from the Center for Environmental Therapeutics to see where your natural rhythm falls, and then consider adjusting your schedule accordingly.

Of all the healthy living components, sleeping takes the least effort and gives you the most bang for your buck. It might just take a little dedication to move it to the top of your to-do list.

Journalist and yoga teacher Mitra Malek regularly creates content for wellness-focused outlets, including Yoga Journal, where she was an editor. Learn more at www.mitramalek.com.

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