Getting plenty of exercise and eating a diet filled with nutritious foods has been the theme of prescriptions for health and wellness for decades.
Then, we began to see additions such as mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises included as we realized that mental health contributed to overall health.
But, there’s one thing we know now that was often lacking in the above prescriptions, and that is sleep!
A lack of sleep can put you at risk for disease, cause inflammation, contribute to weight gain, negatively affect your hormones, hinder athletic performance, and more. Yet, it is said that nearly 35% of all adults in the US don’t get enough sleep.
Here we’ll discuss the ins and outs of sleep and all you stand to gain by simply getting enough of it.
During the day, you work. When you sleep, your body works.
And, this “body work” happens primarily within the bounds of a couple of sleep stages or cycles.
In total, there are four stages of sleep. Each stage or cycle of sleep can last anywhere between 70 and 120 minutes.
- The first stage is brief, basically this is when you’re drifting off to sleep.
- The second stage of sleep is where your body and brain begin to slow down, essentially allowing your body to settle into a restful state.
- The third stage of sleep is known as deep sleep. During this time your body slows further, allowing it to truly get to work, recovering from all you’ve done throughout the day (we’ll get to the details of deep sleep in a moment).
- And, the fourth stage of sleep is known as REM sleep. During REM sleep your brain activity surges, sometimes mimicking waking hours. During this stage your heart rate and breathing also increase, vivid dreams occur, and most muscles slow or stop moving.
But, why do these stages matter? And, why does sleep benefit our health?
While you sleep, primarily throughout deep sleep, your brain and body perform and undergo processes that are vital to survival.
While you sleep…
- Your cells grow and are repaired, energy is stored, and needed hormones and proteins are released.
- Your muscles grow and tissues are repaired.
- Your brain gets rid of built up waste (toxins) and stores new information.
- Nerve cells communicate to facilitate healthy brain function.
- Activity increases in the areas of the brain that control emotion.
If you didn’t sleep, your body would lack the energy needed to function as sleep allows your body to operate at a lower metabolism for a period of time. Essentially, recharging your battery.
And, the above items are only scratching the surface. We’ll get into the specific benefits of sleep in a moment, but first let’s consider the fact that all sleep isn’t good sleep.
I’m sure you’ve experienced times where you wake up in the morning feeling like you haven’t slept a wink, right? Well, sleep is similar to nutrition. Not all food supports the health of your body, and not all sleep grants such support either.
To get a restful, healthy night of sleep, consider the following:
- Establish a nighttime routine. Giving a bit of attention to your habits post-dinner can make a world of difference when it comes to getting restful sleep. And, establishing a routine essentially tells your brain and your body that bedtime is nearing, allowing you to internally prepare for sleep.
- Avoid caffeine after dinner. Caffeine can keep you awake longer, and even if you’re able to fall asleep, it can reduce the amount of time your body spends in deep sleep.
- Limit screen time after dinner or as you approach “bedtime.” And, try to allow natural light into your room first thing in the morning (and all throughout the day) as well as incorporating time spent outdoors in the daytime hours. This can help to establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle, promoting restful sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is set up for sleep success. The experts advise comfortable bedding and clothing, a dark room, and cool temps (between 60-70 degrees). And, refrain from working in your bedroom in the daytime hours as this can interfere with sleep later.
- Avoid daytime naps if you have trouble sleeping at night.
- Engage in physical activity during the daytime hours.
- Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep nightly.
So then, if you practice the above tips to ensure a restful night of sleep, exactly what rewards can you expect to reap?
The following list includes many expert-backed benefits associated with getting enough sleep:
1- Boost Productivity
Research shows that getting enough restful sleep can improve your concentration, cognitive abilities, and boost productivity.
On the other side of that coin, a lack of sleep has been proven to hinder cognitive functioning, concentration, and productivity.
A 2015 study, in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that sleep patterns in children had a direct impact on their academic performance and behavior.
Restful sleep reduces “brain fog” and helps you to think clearly and be more alert, improving performance and productivity.
2- Improves Mental Health
A study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that a lack of sleep caused hindrances in one’s ability to recognize and respond to emotional stimuli, reducing emotional empathy.
Other studies have concluded that there is a link between a lack of sleep and depression. Here, with patterns evidenced between instances of suicide and sleep deprivation as well as persons with insomnia showing symptoms of depression.
Some researchers have seen instances of depression in as many as 90% of their patients who report poor sleep quality.
Getting restful sleep can aid in your body’s natural release of the hormones needed to regulate, and even improve, mood.
3- Reduces Risk Of Weight Gain
A lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain, with studies showing those adults who are sleep deprived being at a 55% greater risk of becoming obese.
Among the number of hormones released during sleep are those associated with hunger regulation. To illustrate the effect this has on the body, studies have shown that getting restful sleep at night can lead to consuming fewer calories the next day.
Likewise, studies have also revealed that people who are sleep-deprived tend to consume more calories and often crave foods higher in fat and sugar.
Even those experts who contest this notion, denying such a link, still agree that a lack of sleep can decrease one’s desire, or even ability, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which affects weight gain/loss.
4- Improves Physical Activity
Ever had a rough night’s sleep that was followed by a sub par workout?
This is due to a dip in levels of energy needed to engage in intense physical activity. In activities that require bursts of energy, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll come up short when needing such bursts!
Your body also repairs muscle tissues when you sleep, so if you’re wanting to see gains in the gym, healthy pillow time is a must.
Proper rest also increases reaction times as well as ensuring the motivation you need to power through a tough workout.
Sleep even helps to keep you injury-free as sleep deprivation can impair your balance, a skill needed in most all physical activity.
5- Decreases Inflammation
Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with increased inflammation throughout the entire body, which we’ve come to learn is a precursor for multiple diseases.
Sleep loss and sleep disturbances prompt the sympathetic nervous system to activate what are known as inflammatory signaling pathways which lead to increased levels of proteins associated with inflammation (C-reactive protein and interleukin-6).
Specifically, a lack of sleep has been proven to cause inflammation in the gut, increasing one’s risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel or worse, colon cancer.
Inflammation in the gut, caused by a lack of sleep, can lead to impaired immune function, skin conditions, diminished cognitive abilities, and much more.
Reducing this inflammation can be as simple as getting healthy, restful sleep!
6- Improves Cognitive Functioning
Getting enough restful sleep has been shown to improve memory and problem solving skills in both adults and children.
Academic performance improves when we get enough sleep (again in adults and children).
And, your ability to make decisions improves as you get enough sleep.
A regular lack of sleep can impair your judgment, decrease mental clarity, and lead to early cognitive decline.
7- Decreases Stress
When you lack sleep, your body amps up the production of stress hormones such as cortisol, leading to greater instances of anxiety (which also causes an increase of cortisol).
Simply getting a good night’s rest can allow your body to relax, while internally your body is repairing and recovering from the day’s activities, thereby decreasing stress.
8- Reduces Risk Of Diabetes
We mentioned that a lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain, and this alone increases one’s risk of diabetes.
But, not getting enough sleep in and of itself increases this risk as well.
Studies show that those people who get less than 5-6 hours of sleep each night increase their risk of developing diabetes by up to 48%.
Sleep deprivation is thought to decrease insulin sensitivity, and this combined with increased inflammation, an increase in the release of hunger hormones, and poor decision making (also stemming from lack of sleep), is thought to be the cause of this increased risk.
9- Reduces Risk Of Heart Disease
Some studies show that adults getting less than 7 hours per night of restful sleep increase their risk of death by heart disease by 13%.
Those sleeping less than 5 hours per night are said to increase their risk of developing high blood pressure by 61%.
Poor sleep quality alone is thought to contribute to a greater risk of heart disease, which reminds us that both the amount and quality of sleep are important.
Overall, these risks to the health of your heart are thought to be linked to hormone production, as some hormones released during restful sleep are tasked with keeping your blood vessels and heart functioning properly.
10- Strengthens Immune System
There’s a reason you are advised to get plenty of rest when you are ill. Sleep heals.
As we’ve discussed throughout this article, much of your body’s regrowth, repair, recovery, and rejuvenation processes occur when you’re sleeping.
A lack of sleep slows the response time of your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness, and preventing you from recovering from illnesses quickly.
One study found that even small amounts of sleep deprivation can threaten your body’s ability to fight off infection.