The Benefits of Sleep

Many people consider sleep to be a passive state, but scientists are spending a lot of time learning more about the powerful and fascinating activities that take place during this period. Getting enough quality sleep is critical for mental and physical health. A good night’s rest can improve concentration, boost energy levels, reduce stress, and help you make healthier choices. Poor or insufficient sleep, on the other hand, can contribute to a wide range of health issues, including depression, high blood pressure, seizures, headaches, migraines, and weakened immunity that increases your risk of infection.

Sleep may seem elusive and mysterious, but the fact is, it’s necessary for everyone. Sleeping too little increases your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Sleep deprivation also impairs your ability to learn and can lead to a host of health problems that can be extremely difficult to overcome, including a heightened risk of stroke and dementia. According to Roy Kohler, MD, a neurologist at SCL Health in Montana, consistent sleep of seven hours a night is recommended for adults simply so they can be on task during the day and function at an optimal level.

Until recently, we didn’t understand why we need to sleep. Some experts believe that sleep evolved as a protective measure against predators after dark. During nighttime sleep, the body is less active and more susceptible to attack by predators. Others think that sleeping at night helps the brain clear out waste, or glymphatic flow, which builds up throughout the day and can cause mental fogginess.

The benefits of sleep go beyond the mind and include growth, healing, and maintenance of the immune system. It is essential for physical recovery after exercise, as well as for the repair of tissues damaged by injury or illness. Sleep can also enhance memory and cognitive abilities, as well as mood. In addition, a growing body of research indicates that getting enough sleep can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

While you sleep, your brain works hard to reorganize information, converting short-term memories into long-term ones. It also erases, or forgets, unneeded information to free up memory space for new memories and actions. This is called “executive function.” A good night’s sleep helps you think clearly and makes it easier to remember things, such as names and facts. This process is why it is important to study and practice a regular bedtime routine, such as reading a book or doing other quiet activities before going to sleep. The routine can “train” your brain to expect that sleep is coming, and it will begin to relax and prepare for sleep on its own. It can also help to avoid caffeine and other stimulants at least six or seven hours before bedtime. These can keep you awake if they are used too close to bedtime.