The Importance of Sleep


When you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or moody, a good night’s sleep can help restore your sense of well-being. Sleep also plays a critical role in the health and maintenance of your physical body, which is why it’s important to get adequate amounts of high-quality sleep. In addition, sleep can have a profound effect on your emotional and mental health, and it’s been linked to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other conditions.

Although many people think of sleep as a time when the brain shuts down and takes a break, researchers have found that’s not exactly what happens. Instead, sleep is a complex activity that involves multiple processes and functions in the body and brain. It is characterized by a sequence of four stages that are grouped together into two broad categories: non-REM (NREM) sleep and REM sleep, which is associated with dreaming. These distinct categories distinguish sleep from other states such as hibernation and deep coma.

The scientific study of sleep began with the work of UChicago Professor Nathaniel Kleitman, who in 1939 founded the world’s first laboratory dedicated to sleep research. His groundbreaking work using all-night electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings helped him chart what occurs in the brain during different parts of the sleep cycle. Today, scientists understand that sleep has a very complicated relationship with the human brain and body, and it is one of the most important and yet underappreciated life activities.

During sleep, the brain clears out waste and processes information that it has accumulated during the day. For example, it converts short-term memories into long-term ones, and it erases unimportant information that may clutter the nervous system.

Sleep is also necessary for the growth and repair of tissues and organs, and it helps maintain a healthy metabolism and immune system. Insufficient sleep over time can increase your risk for a variety of chronic (long-term) health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

In addition to these physical effects, sleep has been linked to emotional stability and the ability to learn and remember. Studies have also found that getting enough sleep reduces your risk of mental illness and can improve your mood, reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

A lack of quality sleep can impact your overall health, causing both short- and long-term issues, such as weight gain and a decreased ability to think clearly. Some groups of people are at greater risk for not getting adequate sleep, including Black and Latino individuals, those with low socioeconomic status and those who work overnight or on irregular shifts for long periods of time.

If you’re not getting enough high-quality sleep, talk to your doctor or nurse. Together, you can develop a sleep routine that works best for you.