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We’ve all heard it from one source or another: the benefits of sleep are many and varied. Getting enough sleep plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and maximizing our wellbeing. Anyone who’s ever gone through a sleepless night can attest to how terrible we feel when we don’t sleep enough. For adults, between six and eight hours of sleep are recommended in order to fully experience the benefits of sleep. This is a widely known recommendation, even though we sometimes don’t stick to it.
What are the benefits of sleep?
Even though it is unclear why we need to sleep, science knows that during sleep our bodies and minds go through a process of restoration that impacts nearly all parts of our body and offers benefits both physical and mental.
1. Improved Mental Capacity
Unsurprisingly, our brain is one of the parts of our body that most benefit from sleep. Most of us have had the experience of going to school or work after a sleepless night, only to realize that our skull feels like it’s lined with fleece and our brain is sludge. It’s not without reason.
Sleep deprivation, even if it only goes on for a week, has been shown to slow down our thinking. Our brains don’t perform as well when they are sleepless, particularly regarding those tasks that have to do with juggling a lot of things at the same time, for example driving. When we operate on insufficient sleep, many of our cognitive functions become negatively affected. For starters, we have trouble thinking clearly, we don’t form memories so easily and we have trouble learning. Additionally, sleep deprivation impacts our judgement by making us of consequences putting us at higher risk of making poor decisions.
So, based on the above, one benefit of sleep is that it helps us perform better overall, and particularly with more demanding things such as learning or things that require our attention to be focused on a lot of things at the same time. A healthy amount of sleep also helps us make better decisions, enhances our problem-solving skills and our concentration.
Why is that though?
The theory of neuroplasticity is one of the most prevalent theories attempting to explain why we sleep. It professes that our brains need to sleep in order to grow, make new neural connections and reorganize and restructure existing ones as we learn and evolve throughout our lives.
2. Better Mood
You know those insufferable mornings when you wake up after three, four hours of sleep, realize that you have to face life today again and just…no? Well, those negative feelings may be due to your lack of sleep. People who don’t sleep enough are often experience negative emotions and mental distress. Not only that, but the longer you go without adequate sleep the more likely you are to develop disorders such as depression and anxiety. Because getting a good night’s sleep restores the body’s energy levels, we wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.
3. Stress Relief
Having to go about your day sleep deprived and grumpy puts added stress on your body and mind. You don’t perform well at work or school, you’re having trouble focusing and retaining information and you’re constantly sleepy. One benefit of sleep is that it helps combat stress, on the one hand because you can perform better in your daily life, and on the other because sleep helps manage stress hormone levels in the body. Additionally, a refreshing sleep means that our energy levels are higher and we are more likely to be able to handle stressful situations calmly.
4. Improved Heart Health
Another benefit of sleep is that it aids our cardiovascular health. When we sleep, our heart slows down and our blood pressure drops, giving our heart a break. If we go without sleep for a prolonged period of time, then our blood pressure is maintained at a high level for that time. This adds stress to our cardiovascular system, putting us at risk for a variety of different diseases like heart failure, heart attacks and more.
5. Balanced Blood Sugar
An additional benefit of sleep is that it helps our bodies deal with blood sugar better. Insulin is the hormone which helps our cells absorb blood sugar, which is then used by the cells for energy.
A frequent phenomenon is insulin resistance where, our cells’ resistance to insulin increases, meaning that glucose (or, blood sugar) is not absorbed into the cells, which in turn means that high amounts of sugar remain in the blood for long periods of time. This overworks our organs and puts us at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Sleeping for more than seven hours every night helps control the levels of sugar in our blood.
6. Muscle Recovery
Sleep is extremely important for muscle recovery and athletic performance. When we sleep, our body goes through various phases and produces different types of hormones that help muscles recover from exercise, growing in the process.
For someone who leads an active lifestyle, like athletes, getting eight hours of sleep every night is extremely important because it not only enhances their performance, it also reduces the risk of injury.
7. Immune System Recovery
It is theorized that during sleep, our body goes through a restoration and rejuvenation process. One more benefit of sleep is that our immune system is boosted, due to the production of cytokines which takes place when we are asleep. Cytokines help our immune system fight infections, so a chronic lack of sleep puts us at higher risk for common infections.
8. Weight Control
Getting enough sleep, along with healthy eating, exercise and stress management, is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle which will help us maintain a healthy weight. Another benefit of sleep is that it contributes to a healthy weight by managing our hunger. On nights when we sleep adequately, our body produces larger amounts of an appetite suppressor called leptin, and less amounts of ghrelin, an appetite stimulant. On nights when we sleep less, we have production of larger amounts of ghrelin and less amounts of leptin, leading to an increased feeling of hunger.
There are numerous benefits of sleep, all of which promote wellbeing and contribute to a balanced, healthy life. Nowadays, sleep is often an afterthought, as people spend more and more time on daily to-dos and and entertainment, neglecting how important sleep is for both our minds and our bodies. If you’re trying to improve your wellbeing, check out these tips for better sleep to help you get the benefits of a good rest.