Remember when people bragged about being “so busy” and “not having time to sleep?” Thankfully, the movement toward wellness, mindfulness and self-care is starting to put that type of foolish—and frankly dangerous—thinking to rest.
According to CDC guidelines, whether you’re 18 or 80, you should aim to sleep an average of seven to nine hours each night. So, how did you sleep last night? If you’re anything like 33% of adults in America, the answer is “not long enough.” But fortunately, we’re seeing a shift in the way we think about and value sleep.
More and more of us are beginning to prioritize rest—look no further than the recent 116% spike in searches for “sleep optimization.” It’s not a luxury, after all, but something as crucial to our physical and mental health as eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
If you’ve already downloaded a sleep meditation app or two, done your homework on sleep hygiene, and you’re tempted to start dabbling with crystals, you already know the critical role shut-eye plays in a wellness routine. But in case anyone needs a refresher before jumping on the let’s-sleep-better bandwagon, here are some of the primary reasons good sleep is crucial to our overall health and well-being.
Sleep Is Essential for Good Physical Health
Sleep affects our physical being in a variety of ways. First, it gives our bodies time to rest and recover overnight, preparing us for the morning ahead. Good sleep can leave us feeling refreshed and ready to take on a new day.
Sleep also supports healthy growth and development. These restorative processes happen in the deeper phases of sleep, which is why REM sleep is important. The body releases hormones during REM sleep that promote natural growth, boost muscle development and help repair cells and tissues.
A good night's sleep also empowers our immune system to remain healthy and stay strong in the fight against infections and viruses. The Mayo Clinic explains the technical process in these terms: “During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep.” (That’s a somewhat complicated way of saying this: If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to get sick.)
Just how serious an effect can sleep deprivation have on our physical health? Pretty serious, it turns out. Sleeping too little has been linked to a wide range of health conditions. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, regularly sleeping less than seven hours per night increases the risk for:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Premature death
Sleep Prepares the Body for Daytime Performance
How important is sleep for our productivity? Getting at least seven hours of sleep each night can help us function our best throughout the day. Without it, our productivity tends to be lower, and our reaction times and ability to finish tasks are diminished.
Sleep is especially essential for brain health. As we sleep, the brain is processing and storing experiences from the day, while also forming new pathways to help us learn and retain new information. Sleep also helps our brains make decisions and pay attention. When we don’t sleep enough, these things become much more challenging and tend to take longer.
Even a loss of just one or two hours per night can impact our daily functions, causing disruptions at school or work. Sleep deficiency impedes memory, motivation and energy levels, which is why getting a quality night of sleep is essential for optimal mental and physical performance.
Sleep Keeps Our Mood and Emotional Well-Being in Check
Sleep deficiency has also been linked to depression, mood swings and risk-taking behavior. Without sleep, we tend to have trouble controlling our emotions and behaviors, which can lead to increased anxiety and stress.
In addition, inadequate sleep can have a negative effect on our social interactions. Researchers believe that lack of sleep decreases our ability to recognize important social cues and process emotional information. In fact, one study found that sleep deprivation lowered people’s ability to recognize expressions of anger and happiness.
To wrap up this refresher on sleep, remember that getting seven to nine hours of shut-eye is essential to maintaining our physical, emotional and mental health. If you’re committed to improving the length and quality of your sleep, but you’re not sure how to get started, why not start small? Try going to bed a little bit earlier than usual tonight, with the goal of waking up before your alarm clock. That’s an easy way to know if your body’s gotten enough rest.
If you take baby steps like that and continue brushing up on good sleep hygiene habits, you’ll be well on your way to your best night of sleep yet. Heck, you may even discover this whole “wellness thing” is something you can totally get into—complete with CBD oil on your nightstand and ASMR videos lulling you into dreamland.
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