I have always been a person who needed very little sleep—or so I thought.
For most of my adult life, my routine has been to stay up late, sleep four to five hours and wake up without an alarm, starting each day anew with no apparent effect on my productivity. Adults typically require seven to eight hours of sleep per day—a third of our lives—which always troubled me. I always viewed those hours in bed as a terrible waste of time and prided myself on the efficiencies I gained while others slept. Today, I’m not embarrassed to say: I was wrong.
I’ve learned that sleep plays an important role in our lives, helping our bodies rejuvenate by repairing tissue and synchronizing hormones. While each of us requires a different amount of sleep, getting enough sleep is a key determinant of a healthy life.
During sleep, our bodies release hormones that slow our heart rate and breathing and relax our muscles. Both the body and mind slow down so that more energy can be dedicated to reparations.
Of course, we experience periods of sleep deprivation throughout our lives—when we cram for college exams, when we welcome a new child and when we start a new job, for example. Our bodies recover fairly quickly from these episodes once they subside. However, long-term sleep deprivation can jeopardize both our physical and mental health. Sleep disorders are often linked to weight gain and anxiety, among other health issues. Simply put: sleep matters.
Like many people, I find that regular exercise helps me to sleep deeper and longer. And I now know better than to dismiss sleep as a waste of time, as I once did. Today, I view sleep as a priority in my life and a key contributor to both my mental and physical well-being.
It’s not always easy to get enough sleep, of course. We face competing demands for our time from work, family and friends. But cutting down on sleep isn’t a healthy way to find those extra hours.
When you go to bed this evening, I wish you a “good night.” But even more importantly, I wish you sufficient sleep.
William F. McKeon
President and CEO
Texas Medical Center
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