People think that the function of sleep is to replenish our energy. And it is. But there is much more to it. Besides the much-needed rest, getting enough sleep is crucial for our general health and well-being. Still, many adults don’t manage to meet the minimum of necessary sleep time. Therefore, it is imperative to raise awareness of the importance of sleep for your health.
Not getting enough sleep will affect not only your energy levels but your physical, emotional, and mental health as well. Consequently, your quality of life will suffer. For adults, insufficient sleep can negatively impact the functioning of the body and brain. For children and teenagers, a good night’s sleep will support growth and healthy development.
Combined with healthy nutrition and regular physical exercise, sufficient sleep is vital for the healthy functioning of your entire being. The lack of it can have highly detrimental consequences.
What is sleep, and why does it affect our health?
When you are asleep, you are in an altered state of consciousness. During your sleep, you have limited interaction with the world around you. Also, depending on the stage of sleep you are in, you are relatively still and quiet. Now, while we are physically still and quiet while we are sleeping, contrary to what you may believe, our brains are very active. Yes, sleep is the time when our bodies and minds rest. But our brains carry out numerous essential functions.
There is no process in our bodies that sleep does not affect. When you wake up the next day, your physical and mental functioning will depend on how well you slept during the night and how much sleep you got. Also, you cannot compensate for one night of sleep deprivation by sleeping more the next night. The damage has been done, and how well you can function the next day will suffer.
What is more, sleep will impact how well your body can battle diseases. It helps us develop our immune systems. On top of that, it affects our metabolic processes, and lack of sleep can increase the risks of contracting chronic diseases.
As you can see, sleep has an effect on every single aspect of your health. Thus, it is not surprising that the importance of sleep for your health and well-being is so great.
How much sleep is enough?
How much sleep we need depends on our age, lifestyle, and general health.
Alt: A girl sleeping
We are not all the same, and different people have different needs regarding sleep. It also depends on factors such as our age, health condition, and lifestyle. Still, there are some general guidelines concerning sleep requirements for different age groups:
- Infants (4-12 months old) – 12 to 16 hours a day
- 1 to 2-year-old children – 11 to 14 hours a day
- 3 to 5-year-old children – 10 to 13 hours a day
- 6 to 12-year-old children – 9 to 12 hours a day
- Teenagers (13 to 18 years old) – 8 to 10 hours a day
- Adults (18 years old and above) – 7 to 8 hours a day
We have mentioned that cumulative sleep deprivation considerably impacts our health and well-being. And taking a nap will not mitigate the consequences of the lack of sleep. It is only a means to boost energy in the short term. Also, sleeping more on your days off will not compensate for the loss of sleep during the workweek. It is merely a signal that you are getting an insufficient amount of sleep generally. Moreover, while sleeping more on specific days will help you feel better and can be beneficial, it can also disturb your sleep-wake cycle.
The benefits of a good night’s sleep
You now understand the importance of sleep for your health and how much sleep you need approximately. So, let’s see what the benefits of getting sufficient sleep at night are.
Improved brain function
If you notice you are becoming tired, irritable, and forgetful, you may be sleep-deprived. It will reflect on your job performance; you will suffer from mood swings and start feeling depressed. As the situation progresses, you will come across as an unpleasant person to be around. So, without a suitable amount of sleep, your brain can’t regenerate well.
Taking a nap will give you a short-term energy boost, but it will not compensate for the sleep debts.
Alt: A person sleeping on a sofa, covered with a blue blanket, representing the importance of sleep for your health
When you sleep, your brain processes your day. It makes connections between the events you have experienced, sensory input, memories, and emotions. It is called memory consolidation.
Thus, when you are in a deep sleep, your brain is busy making links and memories. So, in the long run, enough sleep will improve your memory, and you will have an easier time remembering things.
Better physical performance
If you want your athletic performance to be at high levels, you need sufficient sleep. When you are tired, it’s only logical to lose endurance. If you don’t sleep enough, you don’t allow your body enough time to repair itself, and your muscles can’t grow. Also, sufficient sleep can improve your speed, reaction time, and precision.
So, for the best results, it is crucial to sleep well and enough. How much sleep exactly will depend on your physical activity, general lifestyle, age, and more. But if you notice you get too tired too early during the day, you may be lacking sleep. People who exercise regularly sometimes change the time when they exercise, thinking that, for instance, working out in the morning is what makes them exhausted. However, while it is necessary to determine the right time for physical activity for you, it is usually insufficient sleep that is the culprit for the lack of energy you are experiencing.
Improved physical health
During sleeping, our bodies rest, recover and rebuild. While we are idly sleeping, our body is busy healing damaged cells, improving our immune system, and recharging our hearts. All that contributes to better physical health.
So, if you don’t sleep enough at night, the cumulative effect of sleep deprivation increases the risk of severe health conditions. Kidney disease and heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are some of the possibilities. For example, getting enough sleep helps your body regulate blood pressure. And we know that high blood pressure is one factor that increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. If you sleep less, your blood pressure is higher for a more extended period during the day.
Moreover, there is a connection between the lack of sleep and obesity, too, because sleep plays a significant role in regulating hormonal balance. You have probably noticed that you become hungry more quickly when you don’t sleep enough. That is because sleep helps maintain healthy levels of ghrelin and leptin hormones. And these are responsible for the feeling of hunger. If you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, ghrelin levels will go up, and leptin levels will decrease. This combination makes your body crave more fuel. If this situation persists, you will soon have to fight obesity.
Constant tiredness, irritability, weight gain, and forgetfulness are only some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
Alt: A woman sitting on a chair with her head leaning on her laptop
Another hormone that gets affected by the lack of sleep is insulin. It helps control your blood sugar levels. If they are higher, the chances of developing diabetes also increase.
Finally, getting enough sleep helps build our immune system, which is essential for protecting our bodies from harmful microorganisms as well as battling infections.
The bottom line
It is evident that the importance of sleep for your health is enormous. Besides all we have mentioned, it helps with stress reduction, lowers inflammation, improves your balance, makes you more alert, and prolongs your life. So, take sleep deprivation seriously. Analyze your needs and figure out how much sleep is optimal for you. Your body and your mind will benefit tremendously.