The Importance of Sleep

If you’re not getting enough restful sleep, the effects can be felt in every area of your life. It can hinder your workouts, affect how well you think and make you irritable. It’s no wonder that studies have tied a good night’s rest to a healthier body (both inside and out), improved productivity, and better overall health.

In fact, sleeping well is so important that it’s one of the foundations of what we call a wellness lifestyle. That’s why a number of companies are making products designed to help you sleep better, from apps that aid in falling asleep to calming adaptogen powders that promote relaxation and support healthy sleeping patterns. Even hotels are jumping on the sleep product train, with some offering rooms decked out in everything from temperature-regulating mattresses and personalized Pluto pillows to noise-cancellation headphones and lavender room spray.

While many people may think of sleep as a passive state, scientists have discovered that the brain and body are very active during this time. The goal of sleep is to keep you alive and functioning normally, and researchers spend much of their waking hours investigating how this process works.

We’ve come to know that sleep plays a critical role in brain function, physical health and, in kids and teens, growth and development. But it’s still a complex and mysterious process that can’t be easily explained in simple terms. It’s a bit like a partially assembled jigsaw puzzle—we have some pieces and can see how they fit together, but we’re not quite sure how the whole picture looks.

During the night, your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure decrease as you enter deeper stages of sleep. At the same time, your cells are conserving and storing energy to power you through your waking day. This is important because if your cells don’t have enough energy to do their work, they can’t perform vital functions—and over time, this can lead to illness.

A good night’s sleep can also aid memory and learning. Research has shown that sleep helps your brain sort through and reinforce daily memories in a process called consolidation, which can lead to longer-lasting memories and better information recall.

Having adequate amounts of quality sleep also helps you regulate emotions and control behavior. For example, a study published in the journal Science found that poor sleepers experience more negative thinking and rumination—the habit of focusing on unpleasant thoughts or events—than those who get adequate amounts of rest. Poor sleep can also contribute to the onset of depression and anxiety, as well as increase risk-taking behaviors.

In addition, a lack of sleep can weaken the immune system, which makes you more susceptible to illnesses such as colds and the flu. But fortunately, you can take steps to ensure you’re getting sufficient sleep by implementing the tips below.