Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of good health. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health.
Good Sleep Supports Healthy Brain Function
Getting adequate sleep improves cognition, concentration, memory, problem-solving skills, productivity, and performance. Results from a study on medical interns shows that interns on a “traditional schedule” made 36% more serious medical errors than interns on a schedule that allowed for more sleep. A different study found that inadequate sleep can negatively impact some aspects of brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication. The Mental Health Foundation found that people that didn’t get enough sleep were 4 times more likely to suffer from lack of concentration.
Sleep Improves Your Emotional Well-Being
Sleep helps you control your emotions and behavior. It also helps with people cope with change. Sleep deficiency is linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior. The Mental Health Foundation found that those that are sleep deprived are 3 times more likely to be depressed and 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.
Sleep Affects Glucose Metabolism and Increases Risk of Developing Diabetes
Results from an experimental sleep study found that sleep restriction affects blood sugar and reduces insulin sensitivity. In a study of healthy young men, restricting sleep to 4 hours per night for 6 nights in a row caused symptoms of pre-diabetes. This was then resolved after 1 week of increased sleep duration. Those sleeping less than 6 hours per night have repeatedly been shown to be at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Poor Sleep Increases Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
Sleep is involved in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels. A review of 15 studies found that short sleepers are at a far greater risk of heart disease or stroke than those who sleep 7 to 8 hours per night. A study completed at the University of Warwick found that getting less than 6 hours of sleep on a continuous basis makes you 48% more likely to die of heart disease and 15% more likely in developing a stroke. They also found that if you are over the age of 65, you are 83% more likely to have hypertension which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Poor Sleep Can Make You Fat
Studies show that people with short sleep duration tend to weigh significantly more than those who get adequate sleep. In fact, researchers have found that short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your grehlin levels increase and leptin levels decrease. Being well-rested could help you feel less hungry.
Sleep Improves Your Immune Function
Even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function. If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble fighting common colds and infections. Studies show that those who slept less than 7 hours were almost 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 8 hours or more.
Poor Sleep is Linked to Increased Inflammation
Sleep loss is known to activate undesirable markers of inflammation and cell damage. Poor sleep has been strongly linked to long-term inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
Good Sleep Increases Your Life Span
The sleep research team at Loughborough University found that those that sleep 7-9 hours each night live longer than those who sleep shorter or even longer. They state that you are 12% more likely to die over a 25 year period if you are not getting enough or are getting too much sleep.
Furthermore, as mentioned above, ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO YOU NEED?
Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. Though research cannot pinpoint an exact amount of sleep needed by people at different ages, recommended windows have been identified among experts.
Research suggests that adults need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to be well-rested. Recent national surveys show that 30% of US adults sleep fewer than 7 hours a night.
HOW TO IMPROVE SLEEP: MAKE SLEEP A PRIORITY
- Stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual.
- Exercise daily.
- Evaluate your bedroom to ensure ideal temperature, sound, and light.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
- Beware of hidden sleep stealers, like alcohol and caffeine.
- Turn off electronics before bed.
Most importantly, make sleep a priority. You must schedule sleep like any other daily activity, so put it on your “to-do list” and check it off each night!
American Sleep Association
Authority Nutrition on Sleep
Harvard Health Publishing
National Sleep Foundation
National Institute of Health