We know sleep is important, right? But so many of us skimp on sleep in exchange for getting more work done or to keep scrolling on social media or to finish just one more episode. We tend to see sleep as an inconvenience, or unimportant because we can just push through the fatigue after minimal sleep, but sleep isn’t only important for having enough energy the next day. So many different processes go on while you sleep and sleep is necessary for optimal functioning of your entire body. Read to learn how sleep impacts your health and how to get a restful night’s sleep for optimal wellbeing.
When you get adequate healthy sleep, your entire body benefits from it. Here are some long term benefits of getting enough sleep:
1. Fewer food cravings
When you miss out on sleep, your body craves extra energy. People who have had a decreased amount of sleep have been shown to eat more food and have stronger cravings. When you don’t have that overwhelming level of hunger or intense cravings, it’s much easier to nourish your body well and make food choices that make your body feel great. If you’ve been feeling out of control with your eating, a lack of sleep may easily be the culprit.
2. Improved mental health
There is a multitude of evidence that lack of sleep is correlated with depression and poor mental health in a variety of populations. It is a two-way correlation in that a lack of sleep can worsen or trigger depression, while depression can also be a cause of impaired sleep patterns. It’s important to get enough sleep to prevent depressive episodes and avoid potential onset of depression.
3. Healthy bones
There is new evidence that shows that when adequate sleep is achieved, in line with our natural circadian rhythm (ie, sleeping during dark hours), our bones can benefit. Our bones undergo “remodeling” in order to be strong and healthy. This mainly occurs while we sleep at night. Studies show that sleep restriction, or an altered sleep schedule that is not in line with circadian rhythm, causes lower rates of healthy bone remodeling.
4. Optimal metabolism
Adequate sleep is important for hormone function. Your hormones control your metabolism, so when they are not optimally balanced and functioning, your metabolism can be thrown out of balance as well.
5. Improved neurocognitive functioning
Adequate sleep is correlated with improved memory, learning, and focus. We all know from experience that it is much harder to focus in school or at work when we don’t get enough sleep the night before. Chronically undersleeping can cause major issues with neurocognitive functioning. Prioritize sleep and you will be able to work and study much more efficiently.
6. Healthy cardiovascular system
Getting quality sleep is important for your cardiovascular system. Sleep disturbances and impaired cardiovascular health are closely related. Lack of quality sleep causes the occurrence of many cardiovascular risk factors such as abnormal blood pressure, impaired glucose metabolism, impaired hormonal regulation, and inflammation.
How to have a healthy sleep
There are several factors that come into play when it comes to determining if our night’s sleep was “healthy”. The duration (approximately 7-9 hours is ideal), the ease of falling asleep, the ability to remain asleep with no waking, a sense of energy and wellbeing the next day, and sticking to our natural circadian rhythm (by sleeping from around when the sun goes down to when it comes up) are all important factors to keep in mind when we want to improve our sleep health.
Sleep is an essential need for survival like food, water, and air. While breathing is involuntary, meeting our sleep, food, and water needs is voluntary. This means we have to take intentional action to meet our need for adequate sleep. In order to cultivate healthy sleep habits, in addition to learning about the problems caused by lack of sleep and knowing how much sleep we need, we also need to make it easier to remember to get enough sleep.
Contributed by Melanie Maxwell, R.H.N.