Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles. Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can benefit your heart, weight, mind, and more. Here are some health benefits researchers have discovered about a good night’s sleep:
Your mind is surprisingly busy while you snooze. During sleep you can strengthen memories or "practice" skills learned while you were awake (it’s a process called consolidation). In other words, if you’re trying to learn something new, —whether it’s Spanish or a new tennis swing—, you’ll perform better after sleeping.
Too much or too little sleep is associated with a shorter lifespan, —although it’s not clear if it’s a cause or effect. (Illnesses may affect sleep patterns too.) In a 2010 study of women ages 50 to 79, more deaths occurred in women who got less than five hours or more than six and a half hours of sleep per night.
Sleep also affects quality of life: if you sleep better, you can live better.
Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get less sleep (—six or fewer hours a night—) have higher levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more sleep. In fact, a 2010 study found that C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night. People who have sleep apnea or insomnia can have an improvement in blood pressure and inflammation with treatment of the sleep disorders.
Get a good night’s sleep before getting out the easel and paintbrushes or the pen and paper. Researchers at Harvard University and Boston College found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.
Be a winner
If you’re an athlete, there may be one simple way to improve your performance: sleep. One study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina. The results of this study reflect previous findings seen in tennis players and swimmers.
Children between the ages of 10 and 16 who have sleep disordered breathing, which includes snoring, sleep apnea, and other types of interrupted breathing during sleep, are more likely to have problems with attention and learning, according to a 2010 study in the journal Sleep. This could lead to "significant functional impairment at school," the study authors wrote.
In another study, college students who didn’t get enough sleep had worse grades than those who did.
If you’re trying to meet a deadline, you’re probably likely to sacrifice sleep. It’s severe and reoccurring sleep deprivation, however, that clearly impairs learning.
Another thing that your brain does while you sleep is process your emotions. Your mind needs this time in order to recognize and react the right way. When you cut that short, you tend to have more negative emotional reactions and fewer positive ones. Chronic lack of sleep can also raise the chance of having a mood disorder. One study showed that when you have insomnia, you're five times more likely to develop depression, and your odds of anxiety or panic disorders are even greater.
If you are thinking about going on a diet, you might want to plan an earlier bedtime too. Researchers found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat than those who were sleep deprived, who lost more muscle mass. Dieters in the study also felt more hungry when they got less sleep.
Skimping on sleep can mess up more than just your morning mood. Getting quality sleep on a regular basis is important on many levels, so give your body the ZZZs it needs. Your best bet is to shoot for 7-8 hours of slumber each night for peak health benefits.