Sleep isn’t just important — you need it.
Many people love the feeling of crawling into bed at the end of a long day, sinking into their mattress, and falling fast asleep. So much so that, according to the Better Sleep Council, 6 out of 10 Americans crave sleep more than sex. We know that we want to get a good night’s sleep – but do we need it?
Whether you feel rested and alert after that first cup of coffee or tea depends in part on what happens while you sleep. During sleep the brain is very active, processing, restoring, and strengthening your body. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, quality sleep and the restorative action that accompanies it are essential for many aspects of emotional and physical health.
Each night, sleep works to consolidate memories gleaned from a day of absorbing information. The Sleep Foundation reports that during sleep, experiences are sorted and stored as either lasting long-term memories, or short-term memories. For these reasons, people who experience quality sleep are more likely to retain information, including the complex information required to ace exams.
Sleep is also an essential component of emotional health. Multiple studies indicate that chronic insomnia sufferers have higher rates of depression than those who wake well-rested. Harvard University reports that 15-20% of chronic insomnia sufferers will develop major depression at least once. The same study found that individuals with insomnia were 20 times more likely to suffer from panic disorders. To further prove the impact of sleep on emotional health, University of Pennsylvania researchers conducted an experiment, where subjects were restricted to 4.5 hours of sleep each night for a week. At the end of that week, the majority of participants reported feeling angry, sad, stressed, and emotionally exhausted. Once their sleep schedules were restored, the frustrated feelings subsided, demonstrating that sleep is a fundamental component of happiness.
Our bodies require long period of sleep to restore and rejuvenate, grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones. Sleep also improves immune function, and protects the body against inflammation. This is why exhaustion is often an early signal that you’re coming down with something. Over fifteen different studies conclude that people who don’t get enough sleep are at far greater risk of heart disease or stroke, chronic inflammation, skin conditions, and autoimmune diseases. Insufficient sleep also informs minor illnesses evolving into more complicated diseases like pneumonia.
In contrast, the surest route to improved immunity is quality sleep. What do most doctors recommend to flu patients? Fluids and bed rest. The Chronicle of Dermatology also states that getting a good night's sleep will contribute to clearing complicated skin conditions, including acne and psoriasis.Adopting healthy sleep patterns that allow for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep (for adults) and nine to eleven hours of sleep (for children) will create an excellent foundation for physical and mental health. Though sleep might feel like a luxury, especially during times of stress, it’s important to remember that it’s a necessity. So if you feel blissed out in bed, it’s your body’s way of thanking you for doing the healthy thing.