Sleep and Health Benefits
Sleep is an essential part of overall wellness because proper sleep brings both physical and mental health benefits. So this is a round-up of the sleep and health benefits of a solid night’s sleep and how to get them.
Overall good health is like a 3-legged stool. Two of these legs are the famous duo of diet and exercise.
But too often, diet and exercise are emphasized to the detriment of the third leg of the stool – sleep. But without a consistent good night’s sleep, the stool will fall over and all that dieting and exercising will be wasted.
We’ll start with the bullet points outlining the importance of sleep and then get into more detail with some references.
Dangers of Lack of Sleep
So what are the dangers of sleep deprivation? We can break this down into short-term issues and long-term issues.
Short-term dangers of lack of sleep
- Impaired alertness: just missing a couple of hours of sleep can make you less alert during the day.
- Daytime tiredness: you may feel tired and sleepy throughout the day.
- Impaired mental processing: lack of sleep can affect your memory and ability to think clearly.
- The general quality of life: lack of sleep may cause you to be less inclined to exercise or engage in routine daily activities.
- Stress on relationships: lack of sleep can cause irritability and moodiness, which can upset your relationships with others.
- Involvement in automobile accidents: check out these alarming drowsy driving statistics.
Long-term dangers of lack of sleep
The long-term effects of sleep deprivation include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Immune deficiency
- Low sex drive
- Premature aging of the face
- Wrinkled skin
- Dark circles under the eyes
They call it “beauty sleep” for a reason!
So how much sleep is enough?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there is a range of recommended hours of sleep, depending on age and allowing for individual variability:
- Newborns ( 0 to 3 months): 14 to 17 hours
- Infants (4 to 11 months): 12 to 15 hours
- Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours
- Preschooler (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours
- School agers (6 to 13 years): 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers (14 to 17 years): 8 to 10 hours
- Young adults (18 to 25 years) 7 to 9 hours
- Adults (26 to 64 years) 7 to 9 hours
- Seniors (65+ years) 7 to 8 hours
Variability in hours is accounted for by behavioral, environmental, and genetic factors. But for adults, a minimum of 7 hours of sleep is recommended.
What are the benefits of a solid night’s sleep?
There are many benefits to getting a good night’s sleep, some are interrelated. Here is a summary list (with linked references), in no particular order. Your own experience will tell you which are the most important to you. And many of the benefits of sleep listed here are interrelated.
Proper sleep can help fend off diabetes.
Sleep helps the body regulate its metabolism. This is what converts food into energy. Sleep deprivation impairs the metabolism and this can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This in turn leads to an increased risk of the development of type 2 diabetes. And it is blood sugar issues that can affect mental function, energy levels, and mood.
Proper sleep can ward off heart problems
Lack of sleep causes your body to release cortisol, which is a stress hormone that makes your heart work harder. And sleep is the time your heart should get some rest too. So good sleep is good for heart health.
Proper sleep helps prevent accidents
For example, driving without having had enough sleep can be as dangerous as driving drunk. And sleep deprivation is a common cause of workplace accidents.
Proper sleep makes for better decisions in life
Proper sleep promotes better short-term memory, better learning, better decision-making, and increased productivity. Even though your body is at rest while you are sleeping, your mind is still working. It is consolidating and processing the memories of mental input received during the day before. Adequate sleep gives your mind the time to do this properly.
With a good night’s sleep, your mind and body relax and restore themselves. Lack of sleep leaves you feeling frazzled and this affects your performance during the day. Without adequate sleep, your mind finds it hard to concentrate and process new information. It can affect every area of your life, including making financial decisions.
So, proper sleep will make you more focused and productive.
Proper sleep makes for better sex
Good sleep increases your libido. And, aside from the obvious, regular sex also has great side benefits.
Proper sleep helps maintain your physical capabilities
This includes keeping your balance. Sleep deprivation causes postural instability and can lead to falls. And this is really important if you are a senior and already at risk of injury from falls.
But even for the younger set, sleep deprivation can also cause problems and even accidents while you are exercising.
Proper sleep builds muscle
The sleep process releases growth hormones, which is an important part of the body healing that sleep brings to cells and tissues. This includes muscle recovery. Sleep deprivation has been linked to muscle atrophy.
Proper sleep helps keep you fit
Sleep affects exercise performance. While you are asleep your body is restoring itself. This means that muscle recovery, reaction times, and hand-eye coordination all benefit. And this helps your strength, power, and exercise performance.
Proper sleep gives you better skin
Sleep allows the body to replenish and repair its cells. This includes skin cells. So adequate sleep helps with wrinkles, acne, and hair health. It gives you that healthy “glow.” And it’s more than just skin. See this great post on beauty sleep.
Proper sleep makes for better speech
Lack of sleep has been found to adversely affect verbal communication skills.
Proper sleep makes for better eyesight
During sleep, the body heals itself. And this includes the eyes. Lack of sleep affects eyesight. It can lead to itchy, dry, burning and bloodshot eyes. It can cause a lack of tears and this, in turn, leaves the eyes vulnerable to eye infections. Sleep deprivation can cause eye spasms or twitches and over time can lead to serious eye problems, like glaucoma.
Proper sleep puts you in a good mood
Having a good night’s rest consistently helps put and keep you in a good mood. Waking up restored and rested boosts your energy and helps you deal with life’s challenges without stress. You will just feel better. People with sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and panic disorders than is normal.
Proper sleep calms you down
A good night of sleep makes you less prone to anxiety and irritability. Lack of sleep causes your body to release stress hormones. And stress can make you react in irritation and fear. And this in turn can cause you to make bad decisions.
Proper sleep makes you less sensitive to pain
Adequate sleep can make a recent injury, such as a sprained ankle, hurt less. There are studies that link lack of sleep to a lower threshold of pain.
Proper sleep boosts your immune system
With good sleep, the immune proteins and cells in your body get the rest they need to fight off disease, all the way from colds to cancer.
Also, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adequate sleep can also boost the effectiveness of vaccines.
Proper sleep can help you lose weight
With insufficient sleep, the body produces a hormone called ghrelin, which is known to boost appetite. It also reduces the production of leptin, the hormone that tells you when you have had enough to eat.
The imbalance of ghrelin and leptin increases your food cravings. And now that lack of sleep has already increased your stress levels and decreased your energy levels, you easily succumb to the temptations of junk food. Here is the Mayo clinic on sleep and weight gain.
Proper sleep can reduce inflammation
Sleep regulates the immune system. Lack of sleep causes irregular immune system activity and this leads to inflammation. This in turn increases the risk of such health conditions as ulcers, heart disease, and dementia.
Can you get too much sleep?
While sleep needs vary from one person to another, sleeping more than 9 hours per night can be harmful. People who sleep longer have been found to have a greater calcium buildup in their heart arteries and less flexibility in their leg arteries.
Here is more on the physical side effects of oversleeping.
Sleep hygiene – How to get better sleep
So, if you are not getting enough sleep, we have shown you why sleep really is the best medicine. And we have listed a ton of motivators to get you doing something about it.
Now, here are some top tips for getting some solid zzzz’s. Pay attention to these and you will reap the benefits of the sleep that we listed just above. It’s all about what is known as “sleep hygiene.”
What is “sleep hygiene?”
Sleep hygiene is all about organizing yourself, your sleep schedule, and your sleep environment to give yourself the best shot at a good night’s sleep every night. Here’s what that means in practice:
Setting your sleep schedule
It’s important to establish a good sleep routine and make it a habit. It’s important to get your mind and body accustomed to this. And it means:
- Establishing a fixed target bedtime.
- Establishing a fixed target, 7 days per week wake-up time (no slacking off at weekends)
You need to make this a priority. But you don’t need to do it all at once. It’s quite OK to make gradual adjustments
Establish a nightly sleep routine
A nightly routine geared towards sleep will get you in the mood for it and make actually falling asleep easier. Once the routine becomes a habit, the body and mind will subconsciously take these actions as clues that it’s time for sleep. So think of the routine as more of a ritual that you internalize.
This routine might include:
- Making a habit of putting on pajamas and brushing teeth prior to sleeping.
- Adopting some winding down activities to induce a calm state of mind. Depending on the person these could include playing soft music, relaxation exercises, and some light reading.
- Taking a warm bath before bed.
- Try some meditation and listen to your breathing.
- Limiting your use of the bed to sleep and sex.
- Not watching the clock. Doing this can create negative thoughts about the sleep you are not getting and make matters worse.
- If you lie in bed awake with your mind worrying about something and can’t sleep, get up after about 5 minutes and sit in a chair in the dark for a while, until you are sleepy again.
Supporting your circadian rhythm with healthy daily habits
The body works on an inbuilt wake/sleep mechanism known as the circadian rhythm. So it’s a good idea to establish daily routines that will support this. Reinforcing the circadian rhythm during the day will help you sleep at night.
Here are some healthy daily habits to cultivate. But, of course, results will vary depending on the individual.
- Regular exercise: Physical activity makes it easier to sleep at night. And there are obviously other benefits.
- Get plenty of daylight. Sunlight is one of the main triggers for the circadian rhythm.
- Avoid the stimulation of caffeine later in the day.
- Adopt a healthy diet.
- Eat light in the evenings. A heavy meal just before bed can definitely disrupt sleep.
- Avoid or limit your napping, especially later in the day.
Creating the optimal sleep environment
Here are tips you can try for creating a sleep-inducing bedroom environment. Their success will vary depending on the individual:
- Dim the lights. Bright lights can interfere with the production of melatonin, which is the hormone that induces sleep. Look into circadian lighting.
- Turn off your electronic devices They generate blue light, which also interferes with melatonin production.
- Make sure you have a comfortable pillow and mattress. And use comfortable sheets. A weighted blanket has been found to help with insomnia and anxiety. Check out this inexpensive weighted blanket.
- Make sure the bedroom temperature is comfortable but on the cool side (around 65℉ is good).
- Use blackout curtains or wear a sleep mask.
- Drown out noise by using earplugs. But if these are uncomfortable, consider getting a white noise machine.
- Listen to sleep-inducing music with binaural beats. We have a YouTube channel featuring this kind of music. But remember that listening to binaural beats requires a headset. Some of these come with eye masks.
- Try some bedtime aromatherapy for stress and anxiety. Lavender is known to calm the mind and help induce sleep.
- Before bed, try a cup of chamomile tea for its calming effect.
- Incorporate feng shui for the bedroom in your bedroom design. It’s a way to build-in relaxation.
Finally, be methodical about your approach to sleep. Keep a detailed sleep diary. You can get one here.
A sleep diary will help you keep track of your progress and it’s much better than a general recollection of how you are doing.
If you have serious issues with insomnia or other sleep disorders, your doctor may ask you to do this anyway.