5 Reasons Sleep Is Important for Your Health
It may be affecting you in ways you didn’t realize
I love to sleep. This wasn’t always true. In my youth, I would have happily skipped out on sleep in exchange for excitement. As I grew older and wiser I realized how much better I felt when I was well-rested.
And then came motherhood and with it, a level of sleep deprivation, unlike anything I have ever known before. If you’ve ever spent your days and nights caring for a small creature that feeds every hour, you’ll know the feelings of desperation I had reached.
It’s years later and the former newborn that needed me every hour is now a grown child that sleeps through the night (mostly.) Yet, I am left with an appreciation for sleep that will never go away.
Yet, I sometimes still miss out on sleep. These days it’s almost always my fault, though, I can blame my dogs on some nights. I tend to binge on Netflix or mindlessly scroll through my phone. I don’t know why I do this; sleep is critical and we should be taking it seriously.
We don’t sleep enough
Experts agree that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep. Kids need more. Are you getting that much sleep? Even if I lay in bed for seven to nine hours, according to my Fitbit, I’m not asleep for all of it. A study commissioned by Mattress Firm found that one in four Americans reported that they slept poorly in 2019.
5 Health Benefits of Good Sleep
Sleep is important to both your body and your mind. One or two missed nights of sleep won’t have serious effects on your health. But miss sleep regularly, and you may begin to see problems.
Benefit #1: Controls your weight
If you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight, you may find getting more sleep is the key to progress. Getting less than the recommended amount of sleep has been linked with higher body mass index and weight gain.
Poor sleep contributes to:
- Obesity. Research has shown that lack of sleep contributes to obesity.
- Increased appetite. Sleep affects the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin signals hunger and leptin signals when you’re full. Lack of sleep causes your body to make more ghrelin and less leptin.
- Decreased metabolism. Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the number of calories you burn even when you are sitting. The higher your RMR, the more you burn calories even when you’re not working out. Some studies have shown lack of sleep is linked with a lower RMR.
Benefit #2: Helps your memory
Sleep benefits your memory in two ways. First, when you are sleep-deprived, it becomes hard to concentrate and learn new information. But beyond that, when you sleep, your brain is still functioning.
During sleep, the brain is busy working on things like memory consolidation. Memory consolidation is the process where your brain turns recent events into memories. And a lack of sleep hinders this process.
Benefit #3: Improves your immune system
You may have found when you’ve been stressed and losing sleep, you tend to catch colds easier. It’s not just your imagination. When you sleep, your body produces cytokines. These are proteins that increase when you have an infection, inflammation, or are stressed.
If you aren’t sleeping enough, you aren’t producing enough cytokines, and you’re going to find yourself more susceptible to catching illnesses. These proteins also help your body heal from the effects of the environment including pollution and UV rays.
Benefit #4: Regulates blood sugar levels
There are several ways in which sleep is thought to affect blood sugar levels.
- Sleep deprivation has been found to increase blood sugar levels.
- Staying up late raises cortisol levels which affects how much insulin you produce. Insulin controls your glucose (blood sugar) levels and a lack of it can lead to diabetes.
It becomes a bad cycle as high blood sugar levels contribute to getting less sleep by causing frequent urination and thirst, causing you to get out of bed at night and further disrupt your sleep.
Benefit #5: Improves mood
Sleep and mental health are closely related. Sleep deprivation can affect your mood and mental health. And vice versa, depression and other mood disorders affect how well you sleep.
Disruption during any of the four stages of sleep can create an imbalance in hormones and other chemicals; which can lead to issues with emotional regulation and cognitive functioning.
How to get better sleep
Aside from avoiding my bad habit of scrolling through social media while binge-watching Netflix late into the night, experts have some tips to help you improve your sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. Although a glass of wine might make you feel sleepy, it can disrupt your sleep later on.
- Try relaxation techniques before bed. Deep breathing, meditation, and other ways of quieting your mind can help you fall asleep faster.
- Keep your room dark. Light from electronics or other sources can make it hard to fall asleep.
- Careful with naps. Unless you work overnight and you need to catch up on sleep, napping for more than 30 minutes during the day can mean a difficult night of sleep ahead. And then you’ll be tired again the next day and want another nap. It’s a vicious cycle.
Everyone has a bad night of sleep here and there, but constant sleep-deprivation can cause a lot of health issues. If you’ve tried everything, but you’re still sleep-deprived, contact your doctor. You may have underlying causes, like sleep apnea, that is keeping you from feeling well-rested.
Don’t skimp on your sleep. There’s much to be said for the importance of a good night of sleep.