The Sleep and Health Connection 

By Val Silver

Research confirms that sleep and health go hand in hand.  It is so important that sleep is considered an essential nutrient, much the same as food, water, air and exercise. The quantity and quality of your sleep affect your mental, physical, emotional and social health in the long and short term. 

If you have ever had to endure a few sleepless nights in a row, you know this all too well. In addition to these evident reasons why we need sleep, much happens during and because of sleep to keep our minds and bodies running smoothly.  Much of what sleep does for us we are not even consciously aware of, except maybe when we do not get enough of it.

Health Benefits of Sleep

There are many reasons why we need sleep for health and well-being. During sleep, your unconscious, or subconscious, mind takes care of some very important jobs.

  • It repairs nerve cells, skin cells and other cells.
  • Certain hormones that regulate body functions are timed to release during  sleep. Hormones are balanced, including the hormone responsible for appetite control. Have you ever noticed how you crave junk food and have a bigger appetite after a poor night's sleep? 
  • During deep sleep, the brain rests and extra blood flow is sent to the muscles. This allows them to repair and build energy for the next day.
  • While you snooze, your brain regulates emotions and helps you enjoy better moods when you are awake, putting you at less risk for depression and anxious feelings.
  • Sleep time is when your brain processes memories from the day. It makes connections between events, feelings, prior memories, emotions and sensory input. It strengthens and structures memories and reinforces learning by rehearsing skills you taught it during the day. Students take note!
  • Getting a good night sleep pays off during the day. Your thinking will be clearer. You are capable of better logic, attention span and decision making. You are less likely to make silly mistakes and forget where you left your glasses. Your brain just works better and is more creative. 
  • Brain cells shrink as you sleep. This allows the fluid between the cells to flow more freely and wash away toxic byproducts produced while you are awake. 
  • In children, the human growth hormone is released during the deep sleep phase.

More Sleep and Health Benefits

  • Research suggests that getting at least seven hours of nightly snooze time is good for immunity, making you less likely to catch whatever is going around. One reason could be that getting enough sleep helps reduce feelings of stress, which compromises the immune system.
  • Blood pressure, inflammation and pain also respond favorably when you enjoy good quality sleep. This is a bit of a double edged sword since pain and inflammation can cause insomnia.
  • People who are well rested are more likely to exercise and cook healthier meals, which helps with weight control. You are also more likely to enjoy better sex and romance. Adequate sleep not only promotes testosterone production, but allows you to feel and act more loving and enthusiastic. 
  • Another important health benefit of sleep is safety. When you are well rested you are more likely to drive safely and avoid personal accidents of many kinds. Many car accidents could be avoided if drivers stay alert and wide awake. 
  • Athletes benefit from more sleep, too. When they get at least ten hours of sleep a night, they get less tired and perform better. 

Sleep and health go hand in hand. We simply cannot live long or live well when deprived of this essential of healthy living. Along with nutritious food, fresh water and air, relaxation, and exercise, plenty of good quality sleep helps us get and stay healthy.

To optimize your sleep and health benefits, practice good sleep habits. Seven to nine hours of snooze time is ideal for most of us. Do your best to get this much sleep every night to enjoy better mental and physical health.

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