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The Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep

  sleep tips health sleep science sleep benefits
Thursday, May 7, 2015

Everyone knows the obvious benefits of sleep: you feel well-rested and energized, you’re happier, and you can focus. Did you know that a lack of sleep can have some alarming side effects, like increasing everything from headaches to your risk of stroke? Even a week of sleep deprivation (six hours or less) can cause big problems that are hard to recover from. Plus, your risk for some major health problems can raise—even double or quadruple that of a good sleeper. Here are some interesting benefits of getting a good night’s rest, and surprising effects of not enough sleep!

Good Sleep May Decrease Diabetes Risk

Studies suggest that insufficient sleep can alter the way the body processes glucose. This inappropriate processing of sugar is one of the factors that can lead to type 2 diabetes. Pair that with the fact that good sleep helps people have energy to exercise, maintain a healthy weight by resisting junk food cravings, and burn body fat, and it’s easy to see the link between poor sleep and diabetes.

Heart Health

Cardiologists can tell you that not getting enough sleep can lead to heart problems. Symptoms like high blood pressure and even heart attack have been associated with lack of sleep. When you’re not sleeping enough, your body is stressed and releases cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.” This hormone makes your heart work harder, and takes a toll on your cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Sleep Reduces Stroke Risk

Here’s another alarming effect of lack of sleep: even without other risk factors including family history or being overweight, regularly sleeping fewer than six hours a night can increase your risk of stroke by four times that of someone who gets the recommended amount of sleep. This may be because a lack of sleep causes the symptoms that raise the risk of stroke, but are usually associated with better-known conditions like smoking, diabetes, blood disorders, and high cholesterol. Insufficient sleep can lead to increased blood pressure, higher weight, inflammation, and stress hormones, which may be setting up the correct circumstances for a stroke in older adults.

Immune Health

Sick and tired of being sick and tired? One of those may be causing the other. Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep are more prone to catching colds, and have trouble kicking colds, flu, and other infections. Not only do you need sleep to recover from illness, but you need sleep to prevent getting sick.

Sleep More for a Trimmer Waist

Taking a nap isn’t going to burn many calories or give you washboard abs, but adequate sleep has been linked to having a healthier weight. The flipside of this is that not getting enough sleep is linked with gaining weight, and being overweight. When you don’t sleep enough, ghrelin (a hormone) production is increased. Ghrelin increases your appetite. The hormone that tells you when you’re full, leptin, decreases with decreased sleep as well. You’ll have lower energy, be hungrier and stressed, making it harder to prepare healthy meals and resist the urge to eat easily available junk food. According to Prevention, sleep deprivation can even affect the way that your body keeps weight on. You might be able to lose weight, but you won’t lose as much fat as someone who is well-rested.

Drive Safely

Part of the problem with a lack of focus caused by insufficient sleep is that most people operate heavy machinery every day. Driving without good focus, and with a slower reaction time, increases your chance of a car crash. Many sources find that driving tired is as risky as driving under the influence. People who sleep six hours per night are twice as likely to get in an accident as the full night (eight hour) sleepers. According to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, less than five hours of sleep a night quadruples your odds of getting into a car accident!

Sleep Improves Physical Performance

A lack of sleep won’t leave you with much energy to hit the gym, but the good news is that getting enough sleep can improve physical performance in many ways. You’ll be faster, with better coordination, quicker reaction time, and your muscles will recover more easily after a hard workout. A 2013 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that, after a night of bad sleep, muscles had reduced strength and power during the following day’s workout. Plus, later in the day and in the afternoon, the effects were the worst as your body is already tired from lack of sleep and being up all day.

Sleep is Nature’s Mood-Booster

Sure, you may not wake up with perfect hair and makeup like on TV, but the feeling of waking up well-rested (something most people don’t usually get, or only sneak in on the weekend) is great! You can’t help but be in a better mood when you have slept enough. Sleepiness, however, leads to more emotional reactions to negative situations, higher stress with less ability to focus on problem solving, and even a poor memory surely to leave you in a fog. Tired and cranky? It’s no wonder! Sleep can help relieve your crankiness.

The Effects of Pain

Did you know that not getting enough sleep even makes you react differently to pain? A study in the journal Sleep found that people were not as able to handle a pain stimulus when they lacked sleep. They’re not sure why this is true, but people who slept nine hours were able to tolerate the discomfort 25% longer. Sleep, in turn, is a natural pain reliever that helps people experiencing pain to recover and cope better.

Have Better Relationships

This one is a bit more anecdotal as there aren’t studies to back it up (yet!), but some sources note that better sleep will also lead to improved relationships. It makes sense that, if you’re tired and cranky, you’re going to have more disagreements and be prone to dissatisfaction with life in general. Rest and a clear head will help you be optimistic instead of finding fault with your circumstances and the people around you.

There are so many more benefits to sleep. Even minor things like nicer skin and a sharper memory can have a profound impact on your quality of life. Make sure that you’re going to bed with enough time to fall asleep, and can sleep at least seven to eight hours before waking.


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