Sleep does more than make you feel refreshed — it’s also hard at work, repairing muscles, sweeping away waste and forming memories. During slumber, hormones that play a role in everything from hunger to stress levels are released, so it’s no wonder people who regularly get less than a full night of rest have a higher risk for health problems like obesity, depression and diabetes. Luckily, getting more sleep can help reduce those risks, and there are plenty of tools to improve your slumber.
The human body requires a lot of sleep to function properly, and the amount needed varies from person to person and changes with age. Infants generally need about sixteen hours of sleep per day, while teenagers typically require about nine hours on average. Most adults need seven to eight hours a night. In addition to the age-related change from polyphasic sleep patterns (with several periods of waking and sleeping each day) to monophasic sleep, there is a gradual shift toward the concentration of sleep in one long nocturnal period with aging. This change probably reflects both the maturing of the brain and a cultural shift toward a schedule of daytime activity and nocturnal sleep.
Scientists know a lot about the physiological processes that occur during sleep, but there is still much we don’t understand. One of the most important discoveries was the discovery of a type of sleep called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which has characteristics that are more like activated wakefulness than other types of sleep. Scientists are now trying to figure out what the brain is doing during this time, and how it is related to mental and physical well-being.
Among the many benefits of getting enough sleep is improved cognition, which can mean better performance at school and on the job. Many studies have found that students who sleep less tend to have lower grades, mainly because they have trouble with concentration and abstract thinking. Adults who lack adequate slumber are also at greater risk for depression and anxiety disorders.
Sleep can help regulate your immune system, which is also an important aspect of maintaining good overall health. Research suggests that lack of sleep may contribute to the development of autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
A growing body of evidence shows that a lack of sleep can also lead to insulin resistance, a condition characterized by high blood sugar levels and a decreased ability to use glucose as energy. This can lead to diabetes, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
A poor diet and an excessively stressful lifestyle can disrupt your slumber, but there are many things you can do to improve your chances of getting enough quality sleep. The key is to establish a regular routine. Try to go to bed at around the same time each night, and avoid waking up in the middle of the night or sleeping too late on weekends. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants in the evening, and limit your screen time before bed. If you have a chronic illness, it is especially important to maintain good sleep habits because certain medications and treatments can interfere with your slumber.