Why is Sleep Important to Healthy Living
When we talk about healthy living, we usually think of a good and balanced diet, regular exercise and drinking lots of water, but getting enough sleep is rarely mentioned. Getting a good night's sleep can be the difference between a good and a bad day, and sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on the body.
Good sleep is important for a healthy life, to protect the body from illness, and to ensure you maintain good mental health.
In this article, we're going to be looking at the ways sleep is important for the body and our health, what sleep deprivation looks like, and how to get a good night's sleep. If you want to learn more about how getting enough sleep can help you to lead a healthier life, then keep reading!
The importance of getting enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is important for the body in many ways. Our body runs on what is known as the circadian rhythm which balances our waking hours with our sleeping ones. Our body gets increasingly tired throughout the day, with these feelings peaking in the evening. This is known as sleep-wake homeostasis and is driven by the body's circadian rhythm.
Since the body controls our sleep and promotes sleep when we need it by making us feel tired, it follows that sleep is pretty important to the human body. But why?
For starters, it is during sleeping time that the body does most of its physical healing. This includes restoring energy and releasing hormones and proteins, for tissue repair, muscle growth, and more.
Secondly, when you are asleep, your brain has time to reorganize itself, get rid of waste, and ensure it works clearly when you wake up. During sleep, your brain converts short term memories into long-term memories and dumps any information that isn't needed. Sleeping also affects how the brain functions during the day, having an impact on creativity, focus, problem-solving, decision-making, concentration, learning, and memory. Good sleep makes the brain work better!
Sleep also allows our bodies to conserve energy. This goes back to the time of our cavemen ancestors when hunting was less desirable at night time. Sleeping meant we could conserve energy when it was best for us to do so. It also means that our bodies can function at a lower metabolism, helping to preserve our energy stores.
Finally, good sleep contributes to good mental health and wellbeing. Quality sleep can help emotional stability as, during sleep, the brain works on regulating emotions. One example of this is that lack of sleep can allow the amygdala, the place where our response to fear occurs in the brain, to overreact, but quality sleep allows it to be a more adaptive response.
Getting quality sleep each night can ensure that you feel good and ready for the day ahead when you wake up. Sleep contributes to many elements of a healthy life and we'll get onto that soon, but first, let's take a look at how sleep deprivation presents itself in the body.
Symptoms of sleep deprivation
Before we get into how sleep can be good for a healthy lifestyle, we're going to take a look at what sleep deprivation looks like and how poor quality sleep can affect the body in different ways.
Adequate sleep can help you to feel better, emotionally and physically, so lack of sleep must then cause you to feel worse. Check out the list of symptoms of sleep deprivation below to find out how your sleep habits can affect your mind and body if they result in too little sleep or poor sleep quality.
- Sleep deficiency can lead to chronic illnesses, like heart disease, kidney problems, and brain disorders.
- Poor sleep can lead to drowsiness, increasing the risk of injury and harm in yourself and those around you, and in older adults, lack of sleep can lead to falls and accidents.
- Sleep deprivation can lead to mood changes and an increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Too little sleep can affect memory function and your ability to focus and concentrate.
- Prolonged poor sleep quality can lead to weight gain, poor immune response, and high blood pressure.
- Lack of sleep has also been linked to early death.
Now you know why not getting enough sleep is bad for you, let's take a look at why sleep is good for you, what good sleep looks like, and how you can get better sleep.
How good sleep helps you to stay healthy
We've already explored the ways that poor sleep can lead to a range of negative symptoms, so now we're going to look at how good sleep can help the body.
Health benefits of good sleep
A good night's rest can help you to feel more awake in the morning, but sleep isn't just about feeling more awake. Indeed, sleep is essential to the body's proper functioning, and without it, we risk a range of health issues, both mental and physical. Take a look below to find out how sleep benefits your health.
Sleep is when the body heals
As we discussed previously, a major function of sleep is to allow the body time to heal. When you sleep, some bodily functions slow, helping the body to repair, rebuild, and heal itself. This includes the release of proteins and hormones, the healing and rebuilding of muscle, and protein synthesis.
Getting in a good night's rest can help your body to fight off illness and restore its own health.
Sleep helps with cognitive function and mental wellbeing
Another benefit of good sleep that we have discussed already is the way that it improves focus and concentration as well as emotional stability. Both of these functions allow us to maintain good mental health. With mental and physical health so closely linked, it is no wonder that good mental health helps with good physical health.
Sleep can aid in healthy weight loss
Sleep has a huge impact on your weight. Not getting enough sleep can lead to an imbalance of the hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for an increased appetite, whereas leptin signals to the body when it is full. Without proper sleep, ghrelin is increased but leptin is suppressed, meaning you're more likely to eat more when sleep deprived.
Chronic sleep deprivation can put you at risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Sleeping well can help you to maintain a healthy appetite, contributing to healthy weight loss and maintenance of a healthy weight.
Sleep helps with insulin resistance
Insulin is responsible for helping your cells to use glucose as energy, but with insulin resistance, your body doesn't respond to it meaning your blood sugar levels increase. Sleep helps to ensure your body does respond to insulin. In addition, the brain uses less glucose during sleep which means your body can regulate overall blood sugar levels.
Sleep supports a good immune response
When you sleep, your body produces cytokines and certain antibodies and immune cells, meaning it has the chance to protect itself against infection-causing germs. Cytokines, antibodies, and immune cells work to fight infection and inflammation so it is essential your body has the time to make these cells.
Poor sleep can lead to a poor quality immune response, leaving you susceptible to infection. When you are sick or stressed, your body needs even more of these cells, meaning you need more sleep!
Good sleep contributes to good heart health
There is evidence to support the theory that a good sleep pattern can improve your heart health and protect you from heart conditions, like heart disease, by decreasing the risk factors associated with them. Risk factors include high blood pressure, insulin resistance, increased sympathetic nervous system activity, increased inflammation, increased cortisol levels, and weight gain.
What does good sleep look like? The stages of sleep
"Normal sleep" as it were, is when you fall asleep and stay asleep without any interruptions, and wake up feeling refreshed the next day. Good sleep means that your body has the time to restore itself and rest.
Sleep comes in stages and poor sleep can mean you have only entered one or two of the stages before waking up. In good sleep, the body will cycle through these stages four to five times in a 7 - 9 hour period, and the cycle usually lasts between 70 - 120 minutes each time. But what are the stages of sleep and what do they mean?
Stage one: non-REM sleep
This stage is when you first fall asleep. Your brain waves, heart rate, and eye movements slow down. It usually lasts seven minutes.
Stage two: non-REM sleep
This is considered light sleep. Your body temperature will drop and your heart rate continues to slow as your muscles relax and your eye movements halt. In a night of sleep, you will spend the most time in stage two.
Stage three: non-REM sleep
This is when deep sleep begins. Your brain waves slow even further as your body restores itself. This is when muscle repair, tissue rebuilding, and cell regrowth occurs. Stage three is essential to a good night of sleep.
Stage four: REM sleep
This will occur around 90 minutes after you fall asleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement, meaning your eyes will move quickly from side to side.
During REM sleep, your brain waves and breathing speed up, along with your heart rate. This is the stage of sleep when dreaming occurs and when your brain processes information, making this stage essential to learning and memory.
How much sleep do I need to stay healthy?
For adults aged 18 - 60, it is recommended that you get 7+ hours of sleep. As you get older, you need less sleep and so adults between 61 - 64 years need 7 - 9 hours and adults over 65 years need only 7 - 8 hours.
How to get a good night's sleep
Getting a good night's sleep may come easily to you, but it can be difficult for some. Below are some tips to help you get a good night's sleep.
- Limit caffeine in the afternoon to allow its effects to wear off by the time you go to bed. It is recommended you stop drinking tea and coffee around 3 pm.
- Limit screen time before bed. Some people even make their bedrooms a screen-free environment.
- Try taking a long calming bath with essential oils, like lavender oil and chamomile oil, or essential oil scented bath salts to soothe you into a relaxed state an hour before bed.
- Drink chamomile tea for its relaxing properties before sleep.
- Try dabbing lavender oil, or using a sleep mist, onto your pillow before bed.
A note on sleep disorders
For some, sleep may be more difficult, even with the above tips. If you find you are getting little sleep, constantly feel tired, or are waking up frequently in the night, you may need to speak to your doctor to discuss sleep disorders and possible treatments for them.
Sleep is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. It can help you to feel more awake and alert, improve your focus, and help your physical health too! Getting enough sleep should be a priority for you.
If you struggle to sleep there are various remedies you can try, and if sleep problems persist, you should speak to your doctor to find out about sleep disorders.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep is important because it allows the body to rest and restore itself. Having a healthy sleep pattern and ensuring you sleep for enough time to enter all four stages of the sleep cycle can help to ensure your body has time to reset itself, repair muscles and tissues, and store memories. Sleep improves physical health as well as cognitive function and is extremely important to a healthy lifestyle.
What are 5 benefits of sleep?
There are lots of benefits of sleep, which include:
- Improved cognitive function, focus, and concentration
- Improved heart health and protection against heart conditions like heart disease
- Improved immune response as the body creates cytokines, antibodies and immune cells during sleep
- Better mental health and emotional stability
- Healthy weight control
What does lack of sleep cause?
A significant lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation, can cause a multitude of negative symptoms. These include:
- Low mood
- Anxiety and depression
- Weight gain
- Poor immune response
- Lack of focus and concentration
- Memory issues
- Drowsiness, increasing the likelihood of accidents and falls in the elderly
- Increased risk of chronic illnesses
How long can you go without sleep?
The longest recorded time a human went without sleep is 11 days. Most people cannot survive long without sleep and even after 24 hours of no sleep, your body will begin to display negative side effects. Indeed, the longer you go without sleep, the more risk there is of disordered thinking, hallucinations and eventually sleep deprivation psychosis.