The Importance of Sleep for Overall Health

Most people experience a poor night’s sleep from time to time and wake up the next morning feeling low on energy and pretty grumpy. While we tend to take it for granted, sleep performs a vital biological function and deprivation can have profound consequences for our health.

According to the Sleep Association:

  • Between 50 and 70 million people in the US have some type of sleep disorder.
  • Nearly 40% of people admit to falling asleep without intending to during the day.
Tired man

Why Is Sleep Important?

Sleep and how an individual feels during their waking hours are inextricably linked. Each day, millions around the world suffer a poor night’s sleep and struggle to get through the day with crashing energy levels and lack of motivation.

Sleep is not the passive process that many people believe. A lot happens in the body while we are sleeping.

  • Our breathing slows, the muscles relax and the body uses this time to do some important repairs.
  • Growth hormone, which is involved in bone and muscle development, is released. This is particularly critical for children as they grow into adults but has huge benefits as we age as well.
  • Nerves and connections form new pathways, preparing the body for waking.
  • A good night’s sleep also helps maintain healthy hormone levels and boost the immune system.

Sleep deprivation interrupts these important processes and, over time, can cause both physical and mental health problems. According to the CDC, as much as a third of people in the US are not getting enough sleep.

Deficiency means we’re more likely to fall asleep during the day or suffer from lethargy. We may not be able to perform simple tasks at work or find ourselves drowsing at the wheel of a car.

Lack of sleep can also lead to many health problems including heart disease, if it is allowed to continue over a prolonged period.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Our need for sleep changes as we age. Infants under 12 months may well sleep as much as 16 hours a day. Young children will need between 9 and 12 hours a day. As we move towards adulthood, however, we only require 7 to 8 hours a day.

While it can vary from individual to individual, the average seems to about 8 hours a night. There is a caveat to this, of course, and that’s the quality of sleep time.

Our sleep habits can be disrupted for a variety of reasons. Stress at work and not being able to switch off at night are major challenges in modern society. Drinking at night can mean someone drops off to sleep quickly but the quality of their rest suffers. Illness and poor health can also have an impact.

How Much Is Too Much Sleep?

Too much sleep can be detrimental as well. This called hypersomnia and can mean an individual wakes to feel just as tired and unmotivated as if they had not had enough sleep.

For adults, anything over 9 hours for adults is considered as excessive sleep. Long hours in bed can often be the result of poor quality sleep, which means we have trouble rising in the morning.

What Are the Health Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep?

There are huge health benefits associated with a good sleep routine and effective rest. Individuals who have regular, quality sleep will notice several advantages:

More Energy

Productivity and concentration are greatly improved after a proper night’s sleep. For children in particular a healthy sleep pattern can boost engagement at school and academic performance.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

There’s plenty of evidence that sleep deprivation can lead to weight problems and obesity. There are a few reasons for this.

The first is that poor sleep disrupts the maintenance of natural hormonal pathways. The second is that low energy and feeling tired can lead to poor food choices and lack of motivation to exercise regularly. Obesity and even being overweight, but not obese, can increase the risk of several other serious health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.

Athletic Performance

There is also evidence that a good night’s sleep is beneficial for athletic prowess. Sleep is a period of healing for the body and it can help individuals recover from strenuous workouts and sporting activities. People who sleep well find they have higher endurance and better motor skill coordination.

Improved Emotional Intelligence and Mental Health

A study in 2014 found that people who are sleep deprived demonstrate lower emotional intelligence than those who get a good night’s rest. If someone is anxious or depressed or suffering from some other mental health problem, such as emotional burnout, lack of sleep can compound their wellbeing issues.

Reduced Risk of Health Problems

Sleep is used to maintain healthy blood pressure but there may be other reasons why deprivation can cause heart issues. One of these is related to poor eating and exercise habits and the potential to develop a range of chronic health problems.

Immune Response

Finally, a good night’s sleep can also improve an individual’s immune function, making it easier to fight off viral infections.