SLEEP HEALTH

Why This Should Be Your Only New Year’s Resolution for 2022

Sleep is a crucial part of our health and wellbeing, but rarely makes an appearance on our New Year's resolutions list. We may want to reconsider that.

Jenna Gress Smith, PhD
Jenna Gress Smith, PhD

· 5 min read

Have you set your intentions for 2022?

Or maybe your goal is just to make it through the next year.

There’s been some speculation that this might be a year to skip New Year’s resolutions since the last 12 months have presented enough personal challenges to last a lifetime. And that any task that “whispers to us that we’re not good enough as we are” isn’t taking into account the effort it’s taken just to keep our head above water.

But New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be self-critical. They can simply be us taking stock and reflecting on what we could do better, not because we’re not enough—of course we are—but so we can be the best version of ourselves. And enjoy optimal mind-body wellbeing, or create an anchor point for our lives, during these stressful times.

And, honestly, any day of the year is a good day to do that.

The Only New Year’s Resolution You’ll Need to Make

If there are lessons to be learned from the last 2 years it is these: First, not to take anything for granted, including our health; and second, that life will throw us curveballs. As Covid continues to wreak havoc on our daily schedules and routines, maybe your healthy habits or your personal and professional growth goals have taken a hit.

No matter what you’re looking to improve in the coming year—mastering a skill, becoming a thought leader in your industry, eating healthier, running a half-marathon, or spending quality time with family and friends—there’s one resolution that will help you hit any other goal you set for yourself: Get. Good. Sleep.

Here’s why sleep is so important.

Good-quality sleep helps you make better nutrition choices

Study after study shows that the less sleep we get, the more we crave sweet, salty, fatty foods. Researchers say that the reason for this essentially boils down to two things: The effect that sleeplessness has on your hormones and your brain.

Sleeping less than 8 hours increases your body’s production of the hormone ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” which increases appetite and fat production, while the production of leptin, the hormone that signals that you’re full and helps your body use energy, decreases.  

The less sleep you get, the more your body starts signaling to your brain that it’s hungry. And a sleep-starved brain is less equipped to make executive decisions such as whether it’s better to eat a piece of salmon and some veggies rather than a couple of doughnuts for a quick sugar-fueled energy rush.

On the other hand, when we get consistent sleep without prolonged awakenings, our brains can maintain the appropriate levels of appetite hormones. Plus, if you’re spending less time sleeping or you’re waking up often during the night, you may fill that extra time with snacking.  Studies also show that people with irregular sleep schedules may be more inclined to eat out or make last-minute food choices that are not particularly nutritious.

Good sleep can improve concentration and productivity

Often at the start of a new year, we invest in planners, calendars, and systems to help us get more done with the precious time we have. Because who would turn down the chance to focus more or get more done?

But really, our sleep is the key to crossing more items off our to-do list.

Sleep has two main components, REM and non-REM. Both are important for concentration and memory. Too little sleep (less than 6 hours consistently) or poor quality sleep (multiple prolonged disruptions) can get in the way of the brain’s ability to shuffle information from short-term to long-term memory.

If we don’t sleep long enough or our sleep is too fragmented, our reaction times while we go about our day are slower, and we won’t be able to complete multiple tasks as well. These inefficiencies can add up — we may take longer to complete tasks or even need to redo them, resulting in less done in the same amount of time. Which probably isn’t one of your goals.

Man working out
Photo by Colin Lloyd / Unsplash

Sleeping 8+ hours helps maximize athletic performance

Here’s why sleep is important if you’re looking to get stronger or faster or make your workouts more efficient.

Studies have shown that more sleep and better sleep can benefit athletes, their recovery, and their performance. A Stanford study of men’s basketball players found that both running time and shooting improved when players extended their sleep time to 10 hours.

Male and female swimmers saw faster reaction time off diving blocks, turn times improved, kick strokes increased, as well as their 15-meter sprint times improve.

Varsity tennis players, male and female, who increased their sleep to at least nine hours saw the accuracy of their serves increase significantly from about 36% to nearly 42%.

If your goal in 2022 is to run a 10K or half marathon, you’ll be happy to know that good sleep benefits also include more wins in competitions among runners. These performance improvements may be because higher-quality sleep allows your body to perform better and give more physical exertion.

Another reason why sleep is so vital for achieving your athletic or fitness goals is because good sleep is essential for muscle recovery and muscle growth. During sleep, the body releases most of its human growth hormone (HGH). During slow-wave/non-REM sleep, the pituitary gland secretes about 60 to 75% of the HGH it makes. The HGH goes to work stimulating tissue growth, helping to repair muscle and tissue from the wear and tear that happens throughout the day, or during exercise.

Sleeping well improves emotional consistency and regulation, and social interactions

Sleep and emotions have a complex, 2-way relationship. When we are stressed or experience negative emotions, it can interfere with being able to unwind and get a good night’s rest. Sleep also helps our brains process and respond to emotions.

Getting too little or poor-quality sleep can make us more reactive to negative events, and less able to respond to and have positive feelings about the good things in our lives. REM sleep plays an important role in helping to keep our emotions on an even keel. Studies have shown that during REM sleep, there is increased brain activity in the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and other brain areas associated with processing emotions and refreshing our emotional abilities.

Sleep can also improve and increase your social interactions. Studies have shown that fragmented sleep is associated with loneliness and makes us less interested in attending social activities. The difficulties we face with concentration and energy when we do not sleep well may result in less desire and ability to engage with others. If relationships usually bring us joy and value, getting better sleep may help us have the energy and motivation to engage with and enjoy our friends and loved ones.

Woman sleeping.
Photo by Lux Graves / Unsplash

Sleep is the foundation for our goals

Sleep is a cornerstone of our health, and it impacts almost every area of daily functioning. During REM and NREM sleep, our bodies restore, rejuvenate, and reset many physiological processes. Our days can feel a little lighter and our minds more grounded if our sleep quality and quantity are on point.

Regardless of your focus, goals, or ambitions for 2022, consistent sleep with the quality and quantity your body needs can give you the foundation you need to achieve whatever you want!

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