The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is important to your health and well-being. People who don’t get enough sleep are at greater risk for many diseases and disorders, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and depression. Sleeping more can also improve your mood, help you learn and remember, and make you feel healthier and more alert.

While you’re asleep, your body is hard at work: Your muscles repair themselves, wastes are cleared from the brain, and memories are made. Getting a good night’s rest can also help you stay focused, creative and mentally sharp.

It’s not surprising that researchers have found a connection between sleep deprivation and a number of common ailments, from heart disease to high blood pressure to Alzheimer’s. In fact, a recent study found that people who don’t get enough sleep have a harder time paying attention in school or at work. This can lead to more errors, poor decisions and inability to solve problems effectively.

Your body also makes use of your sleeping time to protect you from the stressors of daily life, such as environmental toxins and unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive drinking. During sleep, your brain releases hormones that control inflammation in the body. Your immune system can clear infections faster if you are getting enough sleep.

As you enter the deeper stages of non-rapid eye movement sleep (stages three and four), your brain starts to organize and consolidate memories. Then, as you cycle into REM sleep, your eyes move rapidly behind closed lids and your brain waves become similar to those of wakefulness.

Research has shown that sleep plays an important role in learning, memory and the formation of new skills. During sleep, your brain works hard to prepare you for the tasks of the day. You may find that you have trouble remembering names, dates or even the location of your car keys when you don’t get enough sleep.

During the second stage of non-rapid eye movement sleep, known as slow-wave sleep, your brain starts to clear out waste and toxins from the body. This is a key process in maintaining mental and physical health, especially for the elderly. Researchers have discovered that if you don’t get enough sleep, you might develop more Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, including memory loss and personality changes.

Sleep is so crucial to our well-being that it’s now included among the American Heart Association’s list of modifiable factors for cardiovascular disease, along with exercise, diet, alcohol, weight, tobacco use and cholesterol levels. But sleep barriers, such as an inconsistent bedtime routine and too much stress, can make it difficult to get the right amount of rest. So make sleep a priority by going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding caffeine and alcohol and relaxing before you head to bed.