7 Reasons to Get More Sleep
Your sleep can significantly impact multiple aspects of your health and well-being. If your goal is to optimize your health, then sleep is just as important as good nutrition and regular exercise.
The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, although some people may need more or less. On average, about 35% of adults in the United States don’t get as much sleep as they should.
Sleep scientist Matthew Walker says, "Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep," he says. "So that classic maxim that you may [have] heard that you can sleep when you're dead, it's actually mortally unwise advice from a very serious standpoint."
Keep reading to learn 7 reasons why sleep is so important to your health and longevity.
1. Helps with weight management
Many research studies have shown an association between sleeping fewer than 7 hours per night and an increased risk of weight gain and increased body mass index (BMI).
A review conducted in 2020 showed adults with short sleep (less than 7 hours) were 41% more at risk for developing obesity. Sleeping longer than 7 hours was not associated with this risk.
Inadequate and poor sleep may impact weight gain due to hormonal changes and decreased motivation to exercise.
Poor sleep can increase ghrelin levels and decrease leptin levels. Ghrelin is the hormone that is responsible for feelings of hunger, and leptin is the hormone that helps us know when we’re full. Numerous studies have shown that sleep-deprived individuals tend to have increased hunger and consume more calories compared to those who are well-rested.
Low energy due to a rough night of sleep may kill your motivation to exercise. If you’re less motivated because you’re always feeling tired, chances are you won’t stick to a regular exercise routine.
Making good sleep a priority may help support a healthy weight.
2. Increased focus and productivity
Adequate sleep is important for all aspects of brain functioning. Poor quality or inadequate sleep can result in difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering things, and poor cognition. It can also impact physical performance.
A study conducted in 2020 assessed the incidence of clinically significant medical errors amongst overworked, sleep-deprived physicians. Researchers found that physicians with moderate, high, and very high sleep-related impairment were 65%, 96%, and 97% more likely to document clinically significant errors.
Other studies have shown that children, adolescents, and young adults who get good sleep tend to perform better academically.
Additionally, quality sleep improves critical thinking skills and memory in children and adults.
3. Boosts athletic performance
Research has shown that sleep can significantly impact athletic performance and recovery. Getting enough sleep can enhance fine motor skills, reaction time, muscular power, and endurance.
Sleep enables everyone to consolidate and store memories. Sleep helps athletes form new memories, so when athletes learn a new skill, sleep helps solidify what they learned and improves the performance of that skill in the future. If athletes don’t get enough sleep, the pathways in the brain that allow for learning and remembering new things can’t be formed or maintained.
Athletes must have a strong mind as well as a strong body. Getting quality sleep supports good mental health, better mood, and decreases the risk of depression. Additionally, sleep allows the body time to repair and heal itself from the intense workouts athletes put their bodies through.
Several studies have shown that athletes who sleep more hours nightly perform better than those who don’t. After sleeping 10 hours, basketball players were faster at sprinting the full- and half-court, and their shooting accuracy improved by 9%. With 10 hours of sleep, male and female swimmers had improved reaction times off diving blocks, quicker turns, and increased kick strokes. While tennis players, both male, and female, experienced 36% to 46% more accuracy with their serves after 9 hours of sleep.
4. Boosts mood and reduces the risk of depression
Poor sleep habits are strongly linked to depression. Studies suggest that people with sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea have increased rates of depression.
Sleep quality tends to be a significant indicator of the next day's mood. People who have short sleep (less than 6 hours) or poor quality sleep report increases in anger, irritability, sadness, and a decrease in positive moods.
While you sleep, your brain processes memories and emotions. Adequate sleep allows you to better manage your emotional reactions to external triggers. When you don’t get enough sleep, you tend to have more negative reactions than positive ones.
Chronicity of sleep deprivation can increase the risk of developing mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.
5. Strengthens the immune system
Through research, scientists now know there is a definitive connection between sleep and the immune system. When the immune system is activated, sleep is altered.
One study showed that sleeping less than 5 hours per night increases the chance of developing a cold compared to getting at least 7 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation can also affect how quickly you recover from an illness.
Getting at least 7 hours of sleep regularly can strengthen your immune system and help fight minor infections such as the common cold.
6. Increases risk for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
Inadequate sleep (less than 6 hours) is linked to a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 36 studies in over 1 million people showed that sleeping fewer than 5 hours increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 48%.
Scientists believe that sleep deprivation may cause physiological changes such as lower insulin sensitivity, increased inflammation, and changes in hunger hormones. Short sleep may also cause behavioral and cognitive changes like poor decision-making and increased food intake, resulting in increased diabetes risk.
Chronic lack of sleep is also associated with a higher risk of developing obesity, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. These diseases also increase your risk of diabetes.
7. May decrease the risk of heart disease
Poor sleep quality and shortened sleep duration might put you at risk for heart disease.
A review of 19 studies concluded that sleeping less than 7 hours per day caused a 13% increased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.
Other research found that each hour lost from a 7-hour night of sleep was related to a 6% increased risk of all-cause mortality and heart disease. Sleep deprivation may also cause an increased risk of high blood pressure, particularly in people with obstructive sleep apnea.
Additionally, another study found that participants who slept less than 5 hours per night had a 61% greater risk of developing hypertension than those who slept 7 hours.
Evidence suggests that a chronic lack of sleep increases the risk of heart disease, so it makes sense that getting adequate, quality sleep would decrease heart disease risk.
Nutrition and fitness are usually at the heart of any health and longevity program, but sleep is an important factor often left out of the equation. Sleep significantly impacts many aspects of your health including cognition, mood, weight, athletic performance, and disease risk. If your goal is health optimization, getting quality sleep and enough of it is just as important as what you eat and how you exercise.