Arianna Huffington passed out at her desk from exhaustion in 2007, and has made the topic of sleep almost a side business. Jeff Bezos has stated that eight hours of sleep is a priority to him. Bill Gates says he can’t think clearly if he isn’t well rested. The truth of the matter is, sleep is essential to everyone’s success.
Every movement of the body requires the contraction of one muscle while relaxing another. And any muscle contracted will fatigue and finally fail if the movement is not reversed to relaxation. In effect, there’s a give and take to any action. When the bicep engages, the triceps must disengage. But the biceps must also be relaxed at some point so the triceps can engage. Work must be balanced by sleep in order for the body to function on all levels.
On any average workday, whether at the office or chasing toddlers, multiple demands are thrown at you. The body interprets these challenges, or even the thought of them, as threats and signals the adrenal glands to turn all “essential to survival” functions to high and shut down everything else. Veins dilate for better circulation, blood pressure and heart rate increase, and the immune system is suppressed. Digestion and detoxification cease, and intestinal organs shut down as blood is shunted to the muscles and brain. All systems are readied for encounters with stray tigers, impromptu meetings with the boss, or errant children falling off the counter.
At the end of the day, stresses should fade with the evening sun and the lights should go out. Heart rate and blood pressure reduce to minimal, metabolism slows and muscles relax while the entire digestive tract goes into high gear. The liver begins cleaning up toxins and waste from the day’s activities and the intestines move them out to the curb. The immune system is given free rein and the body goes into full recovery and rebuilding mode.
This is the balance of work and rest, contract and relax, that the body demands for health. A full day’s work is met with a full night’s sleep.
When sleep is pushed off, however, systems falter. Caffeine or sugar stimulants used to get past the hump aggravate the already increased blood pressure and add load to the slowed digestion and detoxification systems. Toxins begin seeping into the bloodstream, where they can create brain fog and poor judgment. As sleep is delayed, or cut short, fewer nutrients are assimilated, organs aren’t given proper time to clean house and muscles can’t rebuild. The body isn’t given the resources it needs.
The sleep deprived person is giving all he’s got, with no influx of time to heal. You know you can’t hold a push-up for more than a few minutes; likewise, your body will collapse without rest. Sleep is a necessary component of the healthy lifestyle.