Sleep is essential for good health and well-being. It is an active process that affects nearly every tissue and system in the body, including the brain, heart, and lungs; metabolism; immune function; mood; memory; and energy. Getting enough quality sleep helps you feel your best, work better, and have healthier relationships and a longer life. Yet sleep is one of the most undervalued health habits. Most people don’t realize that skipping sleep can make them fat, sick and less able to think clearly, or that it increases their risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
During sleep, your body goes through several cycles of stages to relax and rejuvenate. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes to two hours, and takes place in the deepest part of your sleep. Your brain also releases chemicals during sleep that help prevent infections and promote healing. However, sleep deprivation can cause the release of stress hormones, which may increase the risk for some diseases.
A growing body of research shows that sleep is critical for the formation and consolidation of memories, as well as supporting normal brain function, maintaining healthy cellular growth and repair, and promoting proper immune function. Insufficient sleep has been linked to depression, anxiety, and obesity, as well as to impaired learning and memory.
There are a number of things that can interfere with getting quality sleep, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). Fortunately, there are many treatments available, including medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
Most experts believe that getting a good night’s sleep requires about 7-8 hours per night. It’s important to try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and have a relaxing routine in place before going to sleep. It’s also a good idea to limit caffeine and other stimulants, especially in the afternoon.
Studies show that sleep improves athletic performance and decreases the likelihood of injuries and illness among athletes. In fact, a June 2021 study in Healthcare found that soccer players who regularly get sufficient amounts of sleep recover faster after training and matches.
A newer theory about the role of sleep is that it helps your brain “clear out” the toxins that build up during waking hours. This is important, because the accumulation of these toxins can be a factor in some of the most common diseases of our times, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.
Scientists continue to explore the many benefits of sleep. For instance, they have discovered that during stage-one sleep, the brain appears to reorganize and restructure memories, which can help us remember important events. A recent study in the journal Science Advances suggests that this same process ignites creativity, too. So if you have a creative project on the horizon, be sure to get enough sleep!