The Importance of Sleep


You’ve probably heard of the health benefits of getting enough sleep. It improves your concentration, boosts your energy and helps keep you healthy. But did you know it also benefits your mental health?

It’s hard to overstate the importance of sleep. It’s the one activity in our lives that affects everything else — from our physical health to our emotional well-being. That’s why a growing body of research shows that good sleep is fundamental to our health, and many doctors consider it a key element of overall wellness. It’s even one of the goals in Healthy People 2030, the nation’s public health strategy to promote and protect optimal health.

Sleep has long been viewed as a passive state of inactivity, but scientists now know that it’s anything but. It’s a complex process that involves the brain and other organs in a wide range of activities.

While you sleep, your muscles repair themselves, the brain sweeps out waste, and memories are formed. Your immune system is strengthened, and the hormones that control everything from your appetite to your stress levels are released. Sleep is so essential to our health that a full field of medicine is devoted to it. In fact, many health problems – from depression to high blood pressure to diabetes – are linked to poor sleep.

The reasons for sleep aren’t entirely clear, but it’s likely that evolution plays a role. The energy conservation theory, for example, suggests that sleeping through the night allows us to conserve our resources and stay alert during the day when food may be more scarce. Other theories focus on the need to learn and remember, and to restore cells that have been used or damaged during the day.

Whether or not you believe in the various theories, it’s now known that good sleep is vital for human health, and the loss of it has been linked to conditions from heart disease to dementia. Chronic physical illnesses like diabetes, arthritis and asthma are also associated with decreased sleep, and a greater risk of anxiety and depression.

It’s no wonder that sleep is considered an important determinant of health, along with factors like education, housing, income and access to healthcare. Despite this, sleep is often neglected in clinical practice and other settings where health is promoted, although there are signs of an increasing awareness, including the inclusion of sleep objectives in Healthy People 2030 (and its predecessor, Healthy People 2020).

The science of sleep is still evolving, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the health consequences of inadequate sleep are serious and widespread. It’s time to treat it with the same attention as we give to diet, exercise, stress management and other lifestyle habits that are known to reduce our risk of disease and illness.