The Importance of Sleep

We all know that a good night’s sleep can make us feel rested and rejuvenated. But what many people don’t realize is that sleep is one of the most important aspects of human health and well-being. In fact, getting enough restful sleep on a regular basis is tied to healthy weight, lower risk of diseases and conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression, and improved mental performance and learning ability. And it can even improve our ability to cope during stressful times, such as the pandemic.

What’s more, sleep is actually a very active process that takes place both in the brain and body. Scientists have long known that there are differences in the activity of the body and brain while we’re asleep versus when we’re awake, but it is only recently that researchers have understood why these differences exist.

The key to better sleep is understanding what happens when we’re sleeping. Most of us have always thought that sleep was a time when our bodies and minds “shut down” to prepare for the day ahead, but now we know that’s not exactly what happens. During sleep, the brain and body are working to support healthy brain function and maintain our physical health, and in children and teens, to support growth and development.

In addition, the research also shows that when we get adequate amounts of sleep, our immune systems are better able to fight off germs and illness. And finally, a lack of sleep is linked to poorer quality of life, which can be seen in increased anxiety and depression, an inability to concentrate or solve problems, and decreased emotional responses, including anger and sadness.

The importance of a good night’s sleep is so clear that the American Heart Association recently added it to their checklist of modifiable factors (which includes diet, exercise, alcohol and tobacco use, blood pressure and cholesterol levels) that are associated with cardiovascular health. And for the first time in history, a study of adults in their 20s showed that sleeping more than seven hours a night was associated with having higher levels of coronary artery disease than those who got less than seven hours a night.

Despite all the evidence, many of us have difficulty making sleep a priority. A combination of factors can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, such as shift work, irregular schedules, and busy lifestyles. However, if we can understand the importance of a good night’s sleep and what it does for our bodies and our brains, we may be more willing to give it the priority it deserves. If you want to improve your sleep, try setting a consistent bedtime and a predictable sleep routine. This can help your body and brain adjust to a sleep cycle, and it will be easier for you to fall asleep at night. Try to avoid electronics close to your bedtime and use a dark, cool bedroom, since light and heat can affect your sleep.