How Sleep Affects Your Health and Well-Being


During sleep, the brain is hard at work. It consolidates memory and selects important stimuli to remember, and clears out the toxins—like beta-amyloid, associated with Alzheimer’s disease—that accumulate during normal daily activities.

Getting enough sleep is a vital part of good health and well-being throughout the lifespan. Insufficient or poor-quality sleep increases your risk of heart and blood pressure problems, obesity, depression, diabetes, stroke, mental illness, and more. It also affects how you think, learn, work, and get along with others.

Many factors can disrupt your sleep, including too much screen time, loud noises, caffeine, alcohol, and certain medications. But you can take steps to improve your sleep by setting a regular bedtime, following a routine before sleep, and eliminating bright lights from your room before bed.

While some people may have different needs for sleep, experts agree that all adults need between 7 and 9 hours of quality sleep per night. However, determining exactly how much sleep is needed for optimal health and well-being can be challenging. Generally, people who sleep less than the recommended amount can expect to feel fatigued, groggy and sluggish. People who consistently don’t get enough sleep over time have a greater risk of chronic (long-term) health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and depression, and are at an increased risk of accidents.

Although many of the changes that occur during sleep are not fully understood, we know that when you are sleeping, your brain waves slow down, muscle activity decreases, and a pattern of electrical activity called rapid eye movement (REM) appears in the brain. REM sleep is when dreams occur, and during these dreaming periods the eyes move rapidly in the darkness behind closed lids. REM sleep occurs in cycles, with each cycle lasting less and less time, but on a typical night, you will go through four or five cycles.

Research is revealing that there is a complex interplay between sleep and mental health. The traditional view was that sleep problems were a consequence of mental health disorders, but more recent studies suggest that there is a bidirectional relationship between them. The quality of sleep is associated with many symptoms and comorbidities of mental illness, and the quality of life for people with mental illnesses can be severely degraded by poor-quality sleep.

The connection between sleep and mental health is complex, but the message is simple: If you are having trouble sleeping, seek help. Getting the right amount of sleep is critical for both physical and mental health, so be sure to set a reasonable bedtime and follow a consistent sleep schedule every night. The amount of sleep you need varies from person to person, and will change throughout your lifetime. To ensure you’re getting the right amount of sleep, try keeping a diary of your sleeping habits and stick to a regular bedtime routine. In addition, it’s best to avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol, or other stimulants in the late afternoon and evening.