The Importance of Sleep

Most people know that sleep is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Still, you may know someone who brags that they function perfectly well with just a few hours of sleep every night.


What are the benefits of sleep?


Most people know that sleep is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Still, you may know someone who brags that they function perfectly well with just a few hours of sleep every night.

Is this true? Perhaps. But it's certainly not the norm. Scientific research has proven time and again that we need sleep for our physical and mental health1, and serious health consequences, such as the following, may befall individuals who chronically lack sleep:

Alternatively, getting enough sleep provides a wealth of benefits, including:


How Much Sleep Is Enough?

According to research recently conducted in Italy and the UK, those who get an average of 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night are the healthiest2. These individuals will also live the longest. That is, it was found that “people who sleep for less than six hours each night were 12 percent more likely to die prematurely.”

Oddly enough, there was also an increased risk of premature death for individuals who slept longer than nine hours every night, leading researchers to contend that an average of 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night is optimal.

Of course, the 7-8 sleep range is ideal only for a certain percentage of the population. Babies and children, for instance, require much more sleep. A newborn baby needs at least 14 hours of sleep every night, according to the Sleep Foundation3. Preschoolers need about 10 to 13 hours of sleep every night.


Can you “catch up” on sleep?

Yes and no. As you have undoubtedly experienced in your own life, if you go several nights with limited sleep, you're bound to feel renewed and refreshed on that night when you finally catch 7 to 8 hours in. On the other hand, research has shown that the negative health effects that occur because of lack of sleep cannot be "fixed" by "catching up" on sleep4.


How Sleep Improves Your Health

Here are three key ways that getting enough sleep can help you improve and maintain your health.


1. Adequate sleep boosts your immune system and decreases your risk of disease.

You’ve probably heard before that lack of sleep can cause illness. Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of believing this to be an old wives’ tale.

In fact, it’s quite true.

Lack of sleep can impair your immune system, making it more likely that you’ll develop an infection after being exposed to a virus or that you’ll succumb to another disease that’s linked to the ramifications of poor sleep. For instance, because it’s harder to maintain a healthy weight when you don’t get enough sleep, obesity may be an issue, and obesity is linked to cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Overall, everyone’s immune system functions much better on at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.


2. Adequate sleep improves your memory.

Research has proven time and again that with better sleep comes better learning and an improved memory4. The learning and acquisition process, as well as the consolidation and recall processes, are all enhanced when you get adequate sleep.


3. Adequate sleep helps you maintain a healthy weight.

For both children and adults, not getting enough sleep can have terrible implications for the waistline5. Much of this has to do with chemicals that are released in your brain when you are sleep deprived. If you're not getting enough sleep, your brain may get signals that it's hungry (when it shouldn't be: in the middle of the night). Later in the day, this may cause you to consume excess calories. Your lack of sleep may make you more tired and less likely to exercise as well.

All of these factors combined can make you gain weight, and the snowball effect may be cumulative. Adequate sleep, on the other hand, will leave you feeling rested during the day and not inclined to consume any more calories than your body would normally need. All of this will help you maintain a healthy weight and feel better and stronger overall.


How to Cultivate a Healthy Sleep Regimen

If you’d like to improve the amount of sleep you get each night, try these six tips for cultivating a healthy sleep regimen:


1. Make a bedtime and wake up time for yourself.

Many people who don't get enough sleep, live by the credos that they'll “go to sleep when they're tired” and “wake up when they've had enough sleep.”

Although this would be quite a convenient way to live, most of us need to establish regular sleep-wake cycles in order to get the right amount of sleep every night. The best way to do this? Establish a regular bedtime and a regular wake time for yourself, and stick to these times every day — even if it's on the weekend.


2. Spend time making your sleeping space comfortable and cozy.

If you've been having trouble falling asleep, it could be that your sleep space is not optimally comfortable. It's definitely okay to spend some time enhancing the cozy factor in your bedroom.

Do this by investing in a better mattress. Pick out some sheets, blankets, and pillows that make you feel calm and rested inside. Be purposeful in your selection of pajamas, and make them as comfortable as possible.

Also, use a diffuser or essential oils with relaxing scents before bed. Listen to peaceful music or nature sounds. All of these things will promote calm, peace, and relaxation for a better sleep.


3. Avoid stimulants at nighttime.

Ingesting certain stimulants before bedtime can make falling asleep and staying asleep more difficult. It's best to avoid things like alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, for example. While something like alcohol may make you feel drowsy, it can actually have ramifications for your sleep in that it may make you wake up in the middle of the night.


4. Make exercise a part of your day.

While it may seem counterintuitive because exercise is supposed to "pump you up" and make you feel more energized, exercise during the day actually facilitates better sleep at night. According to Johns Hopkins University, “Recent research indicates that exercise decreases sleep complaints and insomnia in patients6".


5. Try using sleep apps.

Technology to the rescue! If you’re a tech guru (or just need a little extra help), sleep apps like pzizz and Sleep Genius can be especially wonderful for the cultivation of good sleep habits. pzizz encourages better sleep through the use of sound and music7. Sleep Genius is an app that “tracks and treats sleep problems8".


6. Anxious? Tense? Worried? Work on reducing the stress in your life.

Stress-relief techniques such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and pilates are especially useful at reducing daily stress. If you tend to have a lot of stress throughout your day, using these techniques and others (long walks, massage, time spent with friends and family, a relaxing bubble bath) will help stop you from ruminating on worries and fears before bed — something that can easily prevent quality sleep.


Sleeping for Your Health

While sleep may not have been at the top of your list when it came to your health before, take to heart that sleep is actually just as important to your wellbeing as the food you eat and the exercise you do.

The good news is that it’s never too late to become a good sleeper. Furthermore, improving your sleep habits doesn’t require fancy equipment or even too much physical effort. It’s simply about building some basic steps into your daily and nightly rituals and cultivating habits that will make sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night a routine part of your life.

Sleep is the best meditation.
— Dalai Lama


Additional References

How Does Seven to Eight hours of Sleep Affect Your Body

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