Six Surprising Ways Sleep Affects Your Health

January 3 is Festival of Sleep Day, an unofficial holiday created for people to sleep in and relax after the holidays. Everyone knows a good night’s sleep is important for feeling energized, alert, and looking your best the next day. However, sleep also plays a critical role in your overall health, from repairing muscle tissue and releasing growth hormones to increasing immunity and warding off chronic diseases. According to the National Sleep Foundation (“NSF”), doctors and scientists agree that quality sleep is so essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle that it should be considered as equally important as diet and exercise.

Read on to discover six surprising ways sleep can affect your health:

Boost immunity: Not enough sleep can negatively impact the immune system, reducing the ability to ward off viruses. According to the Mayo Clinic, the immune system produces special proteins during sleep that help fight infections; depriving your body of necessary sleep results in less proteins produced and a greater chance of getting sick from the common cold and other viruses. Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Health (“NIH”), recent research has found that quality sleep may actually improve the efficiency of vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.

Slim the waistline: Several studies have linked insufficient sleep, as well as sleep disturbances, such as apnea and restlessness, to weight gain and an increased risk of obesity. According to one recent study published in the journal of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, sleep regulates certain endocrine and metabolic functions. Insufficient sleep may disrupt these functions, leading to feelings of increased hunger and appetite.

Ward off disease: Over time, reduced or poor sleep can lead to an increased risk of developing certain diseases. Specifically, sleep affects your body’s ability to regulate insulin and blood sugar levels; poor sleep may result in an increased risk for diabetes, per the NIH. Additionally, according to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, recent studies have found a link between sleep and heart health, in which the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke increased with chronic insufficient sleep.

Enhance brain function and mood: Quality sleep helps the brain build new neural pathways and encourages increased brain function, leading to improved memory, creativity, and ability to focus and learn, according to the NSF. Additionally, while a poor night’s sleep may leave you moody and grumpy the next day, insufficient sleep has been linked to increased risk of depression and chronic stress as a result of altered brain activity, according to the NIH.

Improve sex drive: A better night’s sleep can improve your sexual health. Several studies have shown that sleep increases testosterone levels in both men and women, according to the NIH, leading to increased sexual desire. Furthermore, sleep plays a role in fertility levels for both men and women.

Repair and grow muscles: Sleep is important for muscle repair and growth, especially after working out or engaging in strenuous activity, according to the NSF. In addition, sleep is critical for healthy growth and development in children and teens, per the NIH.

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