Quality sleep was once overlooked as one of the best ways to improve a person’s wellbeing. For years, people bragged about how they could get by on very little sleep and instead spent hours working late into the night. Now, we know that it is critical to get between 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night, depending upon your body’s needs.
Making sleep a priority in your life has a dramatic impact upon several aspects of your health that influence how you feel and perform each day.
Many common health conditions are linked to too much inflammation in the body. For example, certain autoimmune disorders, such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, tend to flare up during periods of time when the body is dealing with higher levels of inflammation. Sleeping helps to reduce hormones in the body that contribute to inflammatory processes. This also helps to lower your risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Be More Alert
That groggy feeling that you experience after a restless night is more than just annoying. A lack of sleep is associated with poorer decision-making abilities and slower response times. This can quickly add up to problems at work, car accidents and other devastating situations. You should feel alert after sleeping enough time. If not, then there might be something interfering with you reaching deeper states of sleep.
For instance, your mattress might be too small for you and your sleeping partner. If you and your partner sleep on a twin bed then you might want to consider upgrading to a queen mattress to give you both more room to stay cool while you sleep.
Maximize Your Memory
In addition to alertness, sleep helps to improve your ability to retain information. Scientists are still not sure of exactly why, but a large amount of brain activity occurs while you are dreaming that is connected with memories. This could be related to your brain making connections between different experiences, or it might be due to an increase in neural activity.
Either way, sleeping well means that you are more likely to remember new information. In fact, students can use this to their advantage by reviewing information just before they go to sleep on the night before an exam.
Practice Better Weight Management
Working up a sweat isn’t the only way to manage your weight. Sleep helps your body to regulate two important hormones that impact your appetite.
Leptin and ghrelin help you to feel satisfied after eating and know when it is time to eat again. These hormones get disrupted in people who are sleep-deprived. Going to bed on time is just as important as making sure that you get plenty of exercise.
Improve Your Heart Health
Cardiovascular disease is linked to heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. People tend to have an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the earlier hours of the morning. This is thought to be due to how a lack of sleep stresses the blood vessels. Those who get less than seven hours of sleep carry a higher risk of having high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Sleeping improves blood flow to the heart and the rest of your body, which helps you to prevent having a major cardiovascular health event.
Avoid Developing Cancer
Second and third shift workers have a higher risk of developing breast and colon cancer. This is another one of those areas that researchers are dedicating their time to, but there is a good chance that it is related to low melatonin levels in the body that cause poor sleep. Melatonin is responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Your body produces this hormone in response to sunlight and your circadian rhythms.
People who work late night shifts have less exposure to sunlight. This can lead to lower levels of melatonin in your body, which decreases the quality of your sleep. Shutting off electronics and darkening your room for an hour before bedtime can help your body produce more melatonin.
Lower Your Stress Levels
Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases in response to stress. Although you can’t always avoid stressful events in your life, sleeping well helps to minimize the effects of them on your health. Increased stress hormones in your body elevate your blood pressure. You might also experience anxiety symptoms or struggle with maintaining a positive mental state. As you sleep, your body gets a break from the stress that you endure during the daytime hours so that your body can focus on healing.
Overcome the Mid-Day Slump
Even with quality sleep, many people find that their productivity and alertness takes a dive shortly after lunch. People who are able to catch a nap experience a four-time increase in their mental alertness. Ideally, naps should last about an hour, but sneaking in just a few minutes of sleep is better than nothing. If you can’t nap during the week, enjoying one on the weekend can also help you to catch up on sleep.
Heal Faster From Injuries and Illnesses
Your body requires more energy during times that you are recovering from an illness or injury. If you go without sleep, then your body has no reserves to work with. You might notice that you are more tired than usual when you are sick or hurt, and it is important to recognize that this is your body telling you to rest more. Giving in to the need to sleep longer isn’t a sign of weakness. It is you allowing your body to divert its energy to healing.
Boost Serotonin Levels
People with low levels of serotonin are more likely to experience depression. This is another important hormone that sleep helps your body to regulate. If you struggle with depression, then aiming for a full night of sleep can help with your symptoms. You might also be able to prevent developing depression by maintaining good sleep hygiene habits.
Simply laying in bed for eight hours isn’t enough. You also need to make sure that you enjoy deep and restful sleep that allows your body to go through each cycle completely. If you still wake up tired, then make a few adjustments to your bedtime routine. A better mattress, playing some white noise and darkening your room are all effective ways to improve your health with better sleep.
Misha Yueng is a health enthusiast who has worked as a yoga instructor and freelance writer for over 10 years.