Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. This can impair your abilities to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories.
Most adults require between seven and nine hours of nightly sleep. Children and teenagers need substantially more sleep, particularly if they are younger than five years of age. Work schedules, day-to-day stressors, a disruptive bedroom environment, and medical conditions can all prevent us from receiving enough sleep. A healthy diet and positive lifestyle habits can help ensure an adequate amount of sleep each night – but for some, chronic lack of sleep may be the first sign of a sleep disorder.
The Science Behind Sleep
An internal “body clock” regulates your sleep cycle, controlling when you feel tired and ready for bed or refreshed and alert. This clock operates on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm. After waking up from sleep, you’ll become increasingly tired throughout the day. These feelings will peak in the evening leading up to bedtime.
This sleep drive – also known as sleep-wake homeostasis – may be linked to adenosine, an organic compound produced in the brain. Adenosine levels increase throughout the day as you become more tired, and then the body breaks down this compound during sleep.
Light also influences the circadian rhythm. The brain contains a special region of nerve cells known as the hypothalamus, and a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which processes signals when the eyes are exposed to natural or artificial light. These signals help the brain determine whether it is day or night.
As natural light disappears in the evening, the body will release melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness. When the sun rises in the morning, the body will release the hormone known as cortisol that promotes energy and alertness.
BENEFITS OF SLEEP
1. Sleep Can Boost 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. And according to the well-rested sleep specialists over at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, proper sleep can also make vaccines more effective, which is obviously a plus.
2. Gaining Zzz’s Can Help Prevent Weight Gain
Racking up eight full hours of sleep isn’t going to result in losing the lbs. by itself, but it can help your body from packing on the pounds. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces ghrelin, a hormone that boosts appetite. Your body also decreases the production of leptin, a hormone that tells you you’re full. Put ’em both together and that’s one dangerous combo for late-night snacking, my friend. Plus, when you don’t sleep enough you get more stressed and don’t have the energy to fight off junk food cravings. We’re exhausted just thinking about it.
3. Sleep Can Strengthen Your Heart
Not getting enough sleep can lead to heart health problems like high blood pressure or heart attacks. That’s 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. Just another reason to “heart” sleep.
4. Better Sleep = Better Mood
There is some truth in the old saying, “Getting up on the right side of the bed.” It has nothing to do with which side of the bed you roll out of, but sleeping can lead to good moods. And really, it makes sense. If you sleep well, you wake up feeling rested. Being rested helps your energy levels soar. When your energy is up, life’s little challenges won’t annoy you as much. When you’re not annoyed, you’re not as angry. If you’re not angry, you’re happy. So, go to bed early and everyone around you will thank you for it.
5. Sleeping Can Increase Productivity
You may think you’re wowing your boss by burning the midnight oil, but putting off a good night’s rest could be having an adverse effect at work or school. In fact, sleep has been linked to improved concentration and higher cognitive function, both of which can help you be successful at work. But one restless night can leave you feeling frazzled, making it more likely that you’ll make mistakes that a pot of coffee won’t be able to fix. Speaking of coffee, the more tired you feel, the more likely you are to reach for that afternoon cup. And while that may seem to fix the afternoon crash problem you experience, the extra caffeine late in the day could set you up for another sleepless night. Talk about a counterproductive cycle.
6. Lack of Sleep Can Be Dangerous. Literally.
According to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, you’re twice as likely to get in a car accident when you’re cruising on six to seven hours of sleep compared to if you get a full eight hours. Sleep less than five hours and your chances of a crash quadruple! That’s because your reaction time slows way down when your brain isn’t fully rested. We don’t know about you, but those statistics have us ready to climb into our PJs and hit the hay ASAP.
7. Sleep Can Increase Exercise Performance
Someone studied the effects of sleep deprivation on basketball players and guess what they found? When they didn’t sleep well, they weren’t very good basketball players. (#Duh) You might be thinking, ”So what? I’m only MVP in my dreams.” Well, sleep affects all types of exercise performance. Under-the-covers recovery helps with hand-eye coordination, reaction time and muscle recovery. Plus, depriving yourself of sleep can have a negative impact on strength and power.
8. Sleep Improves Memory
Even though sleep gives your body the rest it needs, your mind is still hard at work. It’s actually processing and consolidating your memories from the day. If you don’t get enough sleep, who knows where those memories go. Or worse, your mind might actually create false memories.
The bottom line: Sleep is good. And necessary. We know about the benefits of sleep, citing research that shows people who get less sleep tend to be heavier, eat more, have a higher BMI, and are more likely to be diabetic. Consistent sleep of seven hours a night is what’s recommend for adults just for daytime functioning—being on task, being alert for the day and being able to concentrate and not be so moody and tired during the day.
While there will certainly be ebbs and flows to your sleeping patterns, we hope this is enough evidence to convince you to aim for seven to eight hours a night so your mind and body can fully reap all the benefits.
Need some help counting sheep? Create a nighttime routine to get your mind and body relaxed, maybe try meditating. Oh, and stop looking at your phone or tablet — those social media alerts will all be there in the morning. Sweet dreams!