What is the real reason we spend one-third of our lives sleeping? Here’s why we are

eight hours So experts recommend that most adults sleep every night. But why? Why should we spend one-third of the day—which is one-third of our lives—catching Zzz’s?

It turns out that sleep does more than rest. It activates body systems that repair damaged DNA. The molecule that contains your unique genetic code (DNA) provides the blueprint for how cells develop and function. Environment, chemicals, disease, aging, and other factors can damage DNA, so it doesn’t replicate as it should. Damaged DNA is implicated in the development of cancer and other diseases. This is why early repair of damaged DNA is so important.

Sleep repairs DNA — but getting enough sleep is crucial

Researchers don’t know exactly how sleep relieves DNA damage, but they’ve found it. In a recent study molecular cell, scientists found that DNA damage in zebrafish increased when they were awake and decreased when they slept. This is especially important when it comes to the DNA of neurons, which are parts of your brain, where lack of sleep can cause temporary or even permanent damage.

The report found that sleep is essential, and sleep, but not enough, will not fully repair DNA. In the study, researchers found that if zebrafish did not get six hours of sleep each night, they could not fully repair the damage to their DNA. Scientists believe the sleep-DNA repair connection they saw in zebrafish also holds true for humans.

Additional benefits of sleep

Getting an average of six to eight hours of sleep per night can help you better control your workout performance and your eating habits. A good night’s rest can reduce inflammation, increase energy and even improve the health of your skin.

The benefits aren’t just physical. Rest improves productivity and can help you be more aware and make better decisions.

Hopelessly sleep deprived?

Knowing the benefits of sleep doesn’t mean people actually get enough of it. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 35 percent of adults in the United States do not get enough sleep. About half of adults say they nap three to seven times a week.

Unfortunately, recovering from missed sleep is difficult. Surprisingly, napping during the day or sleeping on weekends may not be enough to restore missed sleep. According to The Sleep Foundation, it can take four days to recover from a lost hour of sleep and nine days to overcome a sleep deficit.

Mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression, can make it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep. Other factors can also disrupt sleep, such as using alcohol or caffeine, being physically inactive, feeling stressed, staying up too late, or having too much screen time. Changes in routine, which are common during travel, holidays or seasonal changes, can also wreak havoc on your sleep patterns.

Detecting when you haven’t had enough sleep

Surprisingly, you don’t know if you’re sleep deprived. Some symptoms, such as daytime sleepiness, are obvious. But others are subtle—or they may be things you get used to and don’t identify as being sleep-deprived. Not getting enough sleep can affect your mood, energy and productivity. Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling hungrier than usual or gaining weight
  • Increased emotionality
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Lack of coordination
  • Being sick frequently
  • Having trouble seeing

If you’re not getting the recommended amount of sleep and have these symptoms, you may need more and better quality sleep.

Tips for better sleep

You may not be able to make up for weeks, months, or years of sleep deprivation, but you can start building your sleep bank with regular rest.

Assess your sleep quality. Do you lie in bed for hours? Fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow? Or go to bed only to wake up at 1am? More than how many hours you sleep, evaluate how well you sleep. Do you feel rested when you wake up?

When you sleep, you go through several sleep cycles, each with several stages — light, deep, and REM. It’s important to spend enough time in each stage to feel rested when you wake up.

With tools like a Fitbit tracker, you can monitor your sleep and see how much time you spend in each sleep stage to see if you should adjust any areas of your sleep habits.

Set a schedule. Experts recommend trying to wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. You may need to change the schedule occasionally, but a regular bedtime will help your body sleep.

Power down your devices. If you currently check email and social media or watch a movie right before bed, those digital distractions affect your body’s circadian rhythms and make you groggy instead of settling you down. Instead, turn off your digital devices an hour before bed. Then, read a book, take a bath, meditate, or do another relaxing activity that helps you sleep.

Adjust the room. Make sure the room’s physical features support sleep. Keep the room temperature cool and comfortable. Cover any light from the charger. Use an eye mask or ear plugs to block out sights and sounds.

Consider such sleep equipment Fitbit’s Snore and Noise Detect To identify snoring and ambient noise that can disrupt sleep. Meditation apps (yes, they’re on your phone, but you can turn them on and hold your phone to your face so the device’s light isn’t distracting) can help you rewind and help you sleep.

You can tune into guided meditations with Fitbit Premium. See some examples here.

Getting regular, restorative sleep isn’t an indulgence. It is essential for your physical, mental and emotional well-being. You spend one-third of your life soundly asleep compared to two-thirds of your life awake.

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