Most people are well aware that a good night’s sleep makes them feel more alert and energetic. They may not realize that sleep is also critically important to their health, affecting nearly all of the body’s major systems. From the immune system to the nervous system, from the digestive tract to the muscular system, studies in both humans and other species have shown that proper sleep plays a critical role in preventing and treating numerous diseases and disorders.
It is thought that the major restorative functions of sleep involve tissue repair, protein synthesis, memory consolidation and the control of emotions. In addition, the brain clears out cellular and protein debris that can accumulate during the day and cause inflammation and damage. These events are regulated by the circadian rhythm, which in turn is controlled by a specific region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus.
The exact way in which memories are locked in during the third phase of sleep, known as non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep, remains a mystery, but it is widely recognized that good quality sleep enhances memory and increases your ability to learn and remember things. In contrast, getting too little sleep can leave you feeling unfocused and unable to concentrate or recall the events of your day.
During sleep, the brain releases hormones that regulate your mood and keep your stress levels in check. In fact, researchers have found that people who get a good night’s sleep are less likely to develop serious conditions like diabetes and heart disease, which can be caused by high levels of stress.
It is also thought that a good night’s sleep is essential for regulating your blood pressure and cholesterol level. It is also known that a good night’s sleep can prevent you from gaining too much weight, as it suppresses the hunger hormone leptin and the fat-storing hormone ghrelin.
While you sleep, the brain clears out cellular and other debris that can lead to inflammation and damage, and it supports the normal functioning of your immune system. It is also critical for supporting the healing process after injury or surgery and helping to maintain your overall health. A growing body of evidence has also shown that sleep is crucial for preventing and treating numerous diseases and disorders, including stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
Sleep is also thought to protect the brain from aging and improve mental alertness. While we are sleeping, the brain produces a substance called BDNF, or bDrug-like growth factor, which helps to keep certain neurons in the brain young by promoting their growth and survival. It is thought that if we don’t get enough sleep, our BDNF production decreases and this can have a negative impact on our memory.
Many factors can affect the quality of your sleep, from your environment and diet to exercise, stress levels and your lifestyle. However, there are several things that you can do to help ensure that you’re getting the quality of sleep that you need. These include establishing a consistent routine that includes going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding electronic devices before sleep, reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption, exercising regularly, and taking steps to reduce your stress levels.