Getting a good night’s sleep is important for so many reasons. Getting enough sleep means waking up feeling rested and alert; it means staying focused throughout the day. But sleep can offer much more than just those more obvious signs of wakefulness. Research has shown sleep underpins the very pillars of our health and wellbeing. In fact, good sleep contributes significantly to our bodies staying healthy and our minds functioning correctly.
In this post, we’re going to consider the various health benefits of sleep, looking at sleep and memory, sleep and weight loss, sleep and depression, sleep and stress, and finally, sleep and heart health. Looking closely at the importance of sleep, you will see just how far the benefits of sleep reach.
While your body may be at rest while you sleep, your mind is surprisingly busy. Experts have found that sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation. This means, as you sleep, your brain is processing your day, working on making connections between feelings, sensory input, memories and events.
If you’re trying to learn something, either physical or mental, practice will only take you so far. However, as you sleep, your brain continues with the task of learning, helping you to consolidate each new skill. During deep sleep especially, the brain works hard at making memories and links, so the more quality sleep you get, the better you should be able to remember and process things.
When we think about what we need to do to maintain a healthy weight, the focus is usually on diet and exercise. But, getting enough sleep can affect not only our weight, but how well we are likely to stick to a healthy diet and exercise regime. Why? Firstly, lack of sleep affects the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite (1).
Sleep can also affect the type of weight loss dieters experience. During a study carried out at the University of Chicago, dieting participants shed similar amounts of weight, but those who were well rested lost more fat, while those who were sleep deprived lost more muscle mass (2).
The research into sleep and weight loss is extensive. Overall, it points to the fact that people who sleep less tend to weigh significantly more than those who get the right amount of sleep (3). One extensive review study showed that children with a short sleep duration were 89% more likely to become obese, while adults were 55% more likely (4).
While we all know how much sleep can affect our mood, it seems the benefits of sleep may go so far as to affect our mental health. Research has shown that an estimated 90% of people with depression complain about sleep quality (5). Poor sleep has even been associated with an increased risk of suicide (6).
How does sleep affect our mental state? Sleep impacts many of the chemicals in our body, including serotonin. People with serotonin deficiencies have been shown to be more likely to suffer from depression (7). So, just as a lack of sleep can contribute to depression, getting enough sleep can help to provide more emotional stability, while helping to decrease anxiety.
Feeling stressed can lead to a lack of sleep, either through stress creating an inability to sleep, or by causing us to overwork and leaving us with fewer hours for quality sleep. However, a lack of sleep may make it even more difficult to deal with stress. With a lack of sleep, the body actually goes into a state of stress, causing the body’s functions to go on high alert.
This not only raises blood pressure, it also means the body creates more stress hormones. These stress hormones in turn, make it more difficult to fall asleep, creating something of a catch22 situation. You need sleep to reduce your stress hormones, but those stress hormones can also prevent you from sleeping. Relaxation techniques and meditation may help with this. Find out more in our blog post, Can Meditation Help You Sleep?
Not only can sleep affect blood pressure, it can also affect cholesterol levels, which play a significant role in heart disease. According to a review of a number of studies, researchers found that people who don’t get enough sleep are at a far greater risk of heart disease or stroke than those who sleep for seven to eight hours every night (8).
Are you getting enough sleep? Find out more in this insightful post.