What Are the Benefits of Sleep? 10 Key Questions Answered
One of the odder facets of our society is just how proud we are of not resting. There is this strange fascination that comes with forcing ourselves to do what we don’t want to do. And sure, there is great utility in that—making yourself do what you don’t want to do now so you can get what you want later is a key to success in any venture. But at what point is forcing ourselves too much? When is it better to actually relax, and accept that there are many benefits of sleep?
We all lead busy lives nowadays, we spend a lot of time in front of computers, studying, working hard. There is an entire culture of self-sacrifice, there is a fetishization of disciplined hard work where we get rid of rest, relaxation, and sleep, completely forgetting about the long term benefits of sleep. As a result, a lot of people don’t get enough sleep. However, all of this should lead to some goal. Whether it be success or just a better, more balanced life, sacrificing sleep won’t help you achieve these goals.
The Q&A we set up below deals with this very concept: sleep. Sleep is necessary if you want to regenerate, if you want to heal. Forcing yourself to sleep for several hours per night will neither help you be productive with your career nor will it assist you in enjoying life more. So, if you want to figure what sleep deprivation does to your body, and to just understand it better, you’ve come to the right place. Why we sleep, how to sleep better, how much sleep should you get, and some general tips for better sleep, all of this information can be found below.
Let’s dive right in.
Why is good sleep important?
More people should think about how many hours of sleep they really need every night. They would value sleep much more if they knew all the restorative benefits of sleep. It helps keep your body, your brain, and your emotional life stable.
First things first—healing. The healing power of sleep should not be understated. Research has shown that rats that have been deprived of sleep have far lesser healing capabilities compared to rats who, indeed, had enough sleep. Their immune systems were weaker, having fewer white blood cells, leading to issues like succumbing to infections more often.
Next on the list of sleep benefits is growth. Namely, during NREM3 (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, increased growth hormone levels have been noticed. Now, the growth hormone is vital for the regeneration and repair of tissue, as well as just general growth and development of the body.
For example, growing children spend more time in the NREM3 phase of sleep, as should athletes who constantly bombard their bodies with exercise. In fact, metabolic activity during sleep is actually anabolic, meaning it leads to growth and regeneration.
A study published in the Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Journal focused on the importance of sleep. The study shows that inflammation becomes worse and more prevalent as sleep deprivation continues. One factor that leads to the reduction of inflammation is having a regular sleep schedule. Since circadian rhythms regulate our immune system, and, in turn, our inflammation levels, we need to regulate sleep.
Therefore, a regular sleep schedule is the best way to get some control over your circadian rhythm.
Our brain functions are also improved through regular sleep, as we have mentioned above. We get better concentration, sharper thinking, and improved focus.
So to sum up, the core 10 health benefits of sleep are as follows:
- Helps you grow
- Allows you to regenerate
- Minimizes inflammation
- Regulates your weight
- Helps you focus
- Improves memory
- Spurs creativity
- Curbs stress
- Manages your moods
- Helps you live longer
Why is sleep important for the brain?
Sleep is vital for the healthy development of our brains. During deep sleep and REM stages, the information we have taken in during the day is now being consolidated. To put it simply, the quality and quantity of our sleep influence how we regulate information, how our brains process it, and finally, how (if at all) do we remember information.
There are four stages of sleep, and having all four stages is vital in the connection between sleep and health. Namely, the four stages are non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) 1, 2, and 3, and the fourth state is simply rapid eye movement (REM), also known as active sleep.
Now, REM sleep is roughly 25% of our total sleep time. During this time we dream, and if we skip this part, we will feel lethargic, depressed, and in general, make mistakes doing basically anything we do. One sleep cycle incorporates all of the above sleep phases, and lasts for around 90 minutes, providing sleep benefits for men and women alike. Rapid eye movement sleep begins at around the 30 minutes mark.
As far as the concrete benefits of a good night’s sleep for your brain go:
- Your memory will become sharper and better
- You will be in a better mood
- Better sleep means better decision making
- More quality sleep means you will focus more easily on tasks
Basically, getting enough sleep means your brain will work better and faster. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the importance of sleep lies within helping nerve cells communicate with one another. The term they used is that sleep has a “housekeeping” role, that it removes toxins that have been building up within your brain while you were awake. So, why do we sleep can be answered with—we sleep in order to remember better, and in order to flush out waste from our brains.
What happens to your brain when you don’t get enough sleep?
Sleep deprivation is simply what happens to your brain when you don’t get enough sleep for some period of time. The severity of its symptoms depends entirely on how much sleep you need in general, what kind of lifestyle do you lead, and on the quality of the sleep you do get.
Based on research on sleep benefits, sleep deprivation prevents communication between brain cells. Now, we all know that the regular symptoms of sleep deprivation—fatigue, short temper, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, poor coordination and concentration. However, any prolonged lack of sleep can have some more serious effects.
So, short term effects of sleep deprivation cause a multitude of relatively light issues (when compared to long-term problems):
- We are not as alert as we usually are
- Our judgment is impaired
- We are drowsy
- Our stress levels go up
These side-effects of sleep deprivation may not seem as problematic as they could be. What’s so bad about being tired, or drowsy, or just being in a bad mood? Well, the problem is—what if you’re behind the wheel? What if you were operating heavy machinery, or perhaps driving a truck?
Now, the long term effects of sleep deprivation on the brain are more direct:
- Poor academic performance
- High levels of depression
- Increased anxiety rates
And these are just the effects on the brain. Long-term sleep deprivation also leads to obesity, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular issues.
How important is sleep to mental health?
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, depression and low-quality sleep are linked. Instead of reaping the benefits of getting enough sleep, 60 to 90% of patients that suffer from depression also have insomnia (with the NCBI reporting 83%). People are much more likely to develop anxiety and depression if they can’t get quality sleep on a regular basis.
What can a good night’s sleep do for you?
A good night’s sleep can help you feel refreshed. It will do wonders for your mind, helping you maintain focus throughout the day, all the while helping you process memories and information. You will also build up your immune system, as well as keep your mood in check. So, get some good sleep habits, make it a priority. Talk to your doctor, find some tips on how to sleep through the night easily and serenely.
Is getting 8 hours of sleep important?
The amount of sleep you need varies depending on your age, and general genetics. However, you can be pretty certain that 8 hours, on average, will be enough for you to feel rested, and for you to stay healthy.
How much sleep do I need?
In order to figure out how much sleep you need, you first need to understand the difference between the sleep that just lets you get by, and sleep that helps you function. One allows you to live, the other to have a life.
According to a relevant Gallup poll, less than 40% of Americans get the recommended amount of sleep, and therefore, the associated sleep benefits. So a bit less than half the population is essentially sleep deprived. Compared to 1942, when 84% of people had enough sleep, the data from today is clearly a cause for concern.
People who sleep less than 8 hours per day miss out on the many health benefits of sleep. How much you actually need, varies from person to person. However, if you want to be at your best, you need to get at least 7–9 hours of sleep every night. If you’re wondering is 7 hours of sleep enough, the answer might be both true and not true, depending on who you are.
Namely, there is a difference between enough, and between being happy and productive. An hour or two of extra sleep might feel like you’re losing out on your day, but you are, in fact, helping your life get better.
Research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation has found that there are varying ranges for how many hours you need at night for the healing power of sleep to kick in. Namely, adults, aged 18 to 64, should get something between 7–9 hours of sleep every night. As far as old age and sleep are concerned, ages 65 and up, are good with 7–8 hours. Teenagers (14 to 17 years of age), however, need more. It’s recommended they get between 8–10 hours of slumber every night.
How much sleep do kids need?
Again, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the amount of hours a child needs for sleep also varies; it mostly depends on how old your child is.
Newborns (0 to 3 months) should get anything between 14–17 hours each day. Infants, aged 4 to 11 months, need 12–15 hours. Next, toddlers (1 to 2 years of age) require 11–14 hours, compared to preschoolers (3 to 5) who need 10–13 hours of sleep every night. Finally, children between the ages of 6 and 13 need somewhere between 9–11 hours of shut-eye.
Is it necessary to sleep at night?
Essentially yes. While your body can and will get used to sleeping during the day and working during the night, you are still messing with your natural clock. In fact, research has shown that people who switch to irregular night shifts develop, among other things, metabolic issues, and begin developing diabetes.
So, the benefits of sleeping early, going to bed on time, are more about avoiding problems, than actually getting any advantages.
How to fix your sleep schedule
Having a good sleep schedule is vital to keep regular and high-quality sleep. The best sleep aid is—being tired. So, you want to get yourself tired at times when you would like to go to bed. We suggest you avoid stimulants, and tire yourself out as much as you can. Try out melatonin supplements, don’t eat or exercise intensely before bed, and don’t nap during the day, no matter how tired you are.
Furthermore, getting a good sleep schedule and learning to sleep well means being very, very strict about your schedule. Check out our tips to sleep better, talk to a professional if things get really bad, and above all be consistent.
Tips and tricks on improving your sleep quality
Now, all of this information doesn’t matter that much if you can’t actually change something about your life. For this reason, we have prepared a section on how to generally improve your sleep quality with some general sleep hygiene tips. There are several things you need to keep in mind if you want to sleep better, but most of these center on lifestyle changes.
Some general sleep tips include:
- Stick to a good and consistent sleep schedule where you go to bed and wake up at the same time every single day (this includes the weekends)
- Keep your bedroom completely dark, and stick to a comfortable temperature—neither too hot nor too cold
- Avoid any and all stimulants directly before bed, such as coffee, energy drinks, and cigarettes
- Don’t eat too close to your bedtime
- Avoid electronic screens from any gadget—tablet, smartphone, TV, computer screen
- Relax before you go to bed by winding down with a book, a warm bath, or some yoga
- Get as much regular exercise as possible (just not before bed)
The above sleeping tips include simple lifestyle changes. However, you should also consider natural remedies if you need extra help. For instance, eating garlic or taking garlic pills before bed is said to be beneficial.
This “fragrant” vegetable and spice has a very high concentration of zinc and sulfurous compounds (allicin for example) which help you relax. They are also great at clearing out nasal passages, which can help you fall asleep and breathe better when you’re asleep (and will minimize snoring).
The main reasons why sleep is important include improved brain function, stable mood and emotions, a healthier body, and just making life better and easier. Your body regenerates while you sleep, it grows and heals at this time. Moreover, your brain gets the chance to cement memories and process information. Finally, a good night’s rest has a tangible benefit to your mood, and your overall sense of wellbeing.
Now, reaping the benefits of sleep means resting enough, and practicing good sleep hygiene. Get somewhere between 7 to 9 hours per night, avoid electronics before bed, minimize other stimulants, and try to stick to a good sleep schedule.