Sleep is incredibly important for our overall health and wellbeing. It helps the body to rest, relax and recharge, enabling us to be alert, energized and productive during the day. During sleep our bodies repair tissue damage, produce hormones, release toxins, and store energy. Getting enough quality sleep helps to improve our concentration, mood and overall health. It is also important for our immune system to stay healthy and fight off illnesses. It’s recommended that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep each night for optimal health.
Reasons Why Sleep is Important
Sleep can Improve Your Immune System
When your body gets the sleep it needs, your immune cells and proteins get the rest they need to fight off whatever comes their way — like colds or the flu.
Getting enough high-quality sleep reduces the risk of infections, lessens the severity of certain diseases, and improves the body’s response to vaccines.
The restorative theory of sleep suggests that sleep is needed to feel well-rested in the morning and for the body to restore cells that are used or damaged during the day.
The restorative function of sleep is supported by research that has identified a variety of important benefits that sleep provides in the mind and body.
- Growth and Healing: Research has shown that sleep is important for tissue growth and repair. Sleep may be one of the most important ways to recover from exercise or injury.
- Clearing Toxins: A good night’s rest may literally clear the mind. Using mice, researchers showed for the first time that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. These results suggest a new role for sleep in health and disease. The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the NIH.
Having a good nights sleep can help your mood. When you wake up feeling refreshed and full of energy life’s challenges seem to be easier to manage.
Studies show people who are sleep deprived report increases in negative moods (anger, frustration, irritability, sadness) and decreases in positive moods.
Sleeplessness is often a symptom of mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
Sleep Improves Memory
Even though sleep gives your body the rest it needs, your mind is still alert. It’s actually processing and consolidating your memories from the day.
Better sleep has been linked to improved memory, knowledge acquisition, and learning.
Sleep can Help Prevent Heart Disease
Not getting enough sleep can lead to heart health problems like high blood pressure or Heart Disease. This is because lack of sleep can cause your body to release cortisol, a stress hormone that triggers your heart to work harder. Just like your immune system, your heart needs rest in order to function powerfully and properly.
A recent study by the University of Colorado Boulder has pinpointed a mechanism that explains how lack of sleep affects circulation by promoting the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries (atherogenesis), which can increase a person’s risk of experiencing a stroke or heart attack.
Sleep and Physical Activity
Not getting enough sleep can result in having less energy for exercise and physical activity. Feeling tired can also make sports and exercising less safe, especially activities like weightlifting and or those requiring balance.
Getting regular exercise can improve sleep quality, especially if that exercise involves natural light.
While even taking a short walk during the day may help improve sleep, more activity can have a more dramatic impact. Engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week can improve daytime concentration and decrease daytime sleepiness.
Sleep and Obesity
In children and adolescents, the link between not getting enough sleep and an increased risk of obesity is well-established, although the reason for this link is still being debated. Insufficient sleep in children can lead to metabolic irregularities, skipping breakfast in the mornings, and increased intake of sweet, salty, fatty, and starchy foods.
In adults, the research is less clear. While a large analysis of past studies suggests that people getting less than 6 hours of sleep at night are more likely to be diagnosed as obese.
Obesity itself can increase the risk of developing conditions that interfere with sleep, like sleep apnea and depression. It’s not clear if getting less sleep is the cause of obesity in these studies, or if obesity is causing the participants to get less sleep, or perhaps a mix of both. Even though more studies are needed to understand this connection, experts encourage improving sleep quality when treating obesity in adults.
How much Sleep do We Need
The right amount of sleep varies for each individual and it depends on age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following ranges:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
- School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, there might be an underlying cause. It is a good idea to schedule an appointment with your health care provider. You may be referred to a sleep specialist if you have ongoing issues with your sleep patterns.