The Importance of Sleep

Getting adequate amounts of sleep is one of the most important things you can do to help keep your mind and body healthy. It allows your body to process and organize the information it takes in during the day, converts short-term memories into long-term ones and helps you see situations clearly when you wake up. It also gives your brain a chance to clear out the clutter that can accumulate during the day, such as worries and frustrations, so you can start fresh in the morning.

But despite the importance of sleep, many people are not getting enough. This is a major public health problem, with the number of adults who report inadequate sleep rising from 45% in 1960 to 60% in 2000. Lack of sleep is linked to a range of health problems, including depression, weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. Sleep deprivation also increases the risk of accidents and injuries. It is thought that the most common cause of poor sleep is stress, which can cause your brain to release hormones that can prevent you from sleeping. Other causes can include anxiety, pain, work or family pressures and financial concerns. Several studies have shown that good-quality sleep can help lower your stress levels and improve your mental health.

Sleep is also vital to the immune system, which is responsible for fighting off germs and viruses. During the night, your immune cells go through critical repair processes that help you fight off infection and stay healthy. Without sufficient sleep, your immune system may be less effective at fighting off sickness, and it can take longer to recover from illness. Studies have also shown that having a good sleep routine can help reduce the chances of getting sick in the first place.

Scientists are still trying to understand what makes sleep so important for human health. Until recently, most people believed that sleep was a period of dormancy during which the brain and body were completely inactive. But new research has revealed that this is not the case, and in fact, the brain is active throughout most of the night.

A key finding is that the brain rewires itself during sleep, and it is the rewiring of the cortical networks that makes us feel asleep (Krueger, 2019). This rewiring is most prominent in subcortical regions that are involved in sensory processing (e.g., somatosensory and auditory cortex).

Another important finding is that the thalamic relays that transmit sensory input to the neocortex are blocked during sleep, which can explain why we feel unresponsive during sleep. This is known as the thalamic gating hypothesis.

The best way to ensure your child gets the quality sleep they need is to establish a bedtime routine, and stick with it. This should include bathing, brushing teeth, quiet time that might include a bedtime story and then getting into their own bed. It is a good idea to avoid letting your child come into your bedroom at all during the night unless you are sure they really need comfort.