With many options for entertainment, sometimes sleeping is the last thing you want to do. Or you might have so many tasks on your to-do list, and the only option is to edge further past your bedtime to check these off. Frankly, sometimes sleep is the last thing on our minds when busy.
The CDC states that more than 35 percent of Americans1 get less than 7 hours of sleep per night, the recommended minimum sleep to achieve health benefits. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, even averaging just one hour less sleep2 increases your risk for long-term health issues like diabetes and heart problems.
Everyone’s sleep needs differ, but most adults generally require 7 to 9 hours per night3 for optimal health and well-being. Prioritizing sleep and developing healthy sleep habits can lead to many surprising health benefits that positively impact your emotional, mental, and physical health.
Getting those hours of snoozing is worth it, and here’s why: there are eight surprising health benefits of consistently resting. Better yet, some of these benefits are noticeable immediately after improving sleep habits!
The Dark Side: Lack of Sleep and Mental Health
Sleep deprivation significantly impacts mental health, leading to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.4 If you struggle to cope with stress and negative emotions when you’re sleep-deprived, your brain may become less effective in managing anxious thoughts and feelings.
Similarly, the lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain, contributing to the development or worsening of depression.
Also, sleep deprivation may cause irritability and mood swings. Maintaining emotional stability when the brain is tired and unable to process emotions effectively is exhausting.
Sleep hygiene refers to habits that promote sound sleep quality.
8 Sleep Benefits for Mental and Physical Health
1. Improved Social and Emotional Health
Sleep restores emotional balance and resilience for better mental health. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is associated with emotional processing and consolidation.5 Emotional processing is noticing and feeling what is happening to us emotionally. During REM sleep, the brain is active, and it reviews and integrates emotional memories, which can contribute to emotional stability and adaptive responses to stress during waking hours.
Appropriate sleep also enhances social interactions and emotional intelligence. Individuals who meet their sleep needs are typically better at recognizing emotions in others. They also have improved communication skills and engage in fewer interpersonal conflicts.6
2. Appetite Regulation
Sleep can influence appetite-regulating hormones. These hormones, leptin and ghrelin, communicate with the body, sending hunger and satiety signals to help the body regulate and acquire food for fuel. Ample sleep helps maintain a healthy balance in these hormones, reducing food cravings.7
3. Cardiovascular Health
Restful sleep reduces your risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes. Rejuvenating rest helps maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce strain on the heart as it pumps blood and oxygen throughout your body.8
4. Cognitive Function and Memory
Adequate sleep strengthens cognitive function and memory. Memory consolidation (the process in which your brain converts temporary memories into long-term memory storage) occurs during sleep. This process happens during slow-wave (deep) and REM sleep.9
During deep sleep cycles, your brain reinforces memories you acquired during waking hours by replaying them. This consolidation process strengthens newly formed memories, making them more resistant to forgetting over the longer term.
5. Improved Learning Ability
Sleep enhances learning. When you learn new information during the day, sleep helps solidify these memories. This process makes your memories more accessible for recall in the future, helping you form habits and make connections that enable you to perform daily tasks.10
6. Improved Immune Function
Adequate sleep is imperative for maintaining a robust immune system. Your body produces and releases cytokines during an immune response regulation to help fight infections and inflammation. Chronic sleep deprivation can reduce cytokine production, weakening your immune system and increasing your chance of becoming ill.11
7. Sleep Optimizes Growth and Development
Sleep promotes the release of growth hormones, such as human growth hormone (HGH). Your body primarily secrets HGH during deep sleep. HGH is necessary to stimulate growth and development in children and adolescents. In adults, it aids in tissue repair and maintaining bone density.12
8. Sleep Benefits Skin Health
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, benefiting just as much as your other organs from quality sleep. Sleeping well can help keep stress hormone levels, like cortisol, balanced and minimize acne and other skin problems.13
Sleep has an impact on skin appearance. Sufficient sleep can help reduce the appearance of dark circles and puffiness around the eyes. Blood vessels dilate after a poor night’s sleep, and dark undereye circles and skin inflammation become more apparent. On the other hand, adequate sleep can help reduce inflammation and improve these skin conditions.14
In general, sleep benefits skin health by:
- Reducing Fine Lines and Wrinkles: Your body’s metabolic activity slows down while you sleep, enhancing skin regeneration. Your body uses this time for skin cell turnover, an essential healing and rebuilding process for maintaining healthy and youthful-looking skin. During deep sleep, your body releases more collagen, which helps reduce wrinkles and fine lines.
- Promoting a Healthy and Glowing Complexion: While sleeping, your skin receives more oxygen and nutrients because blood flow increases. This increased blood flow contributes to a healthy and glowing complexion.
How to Optimize Sleep for Maximum Health Benefits
1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Your body operates on a natural biological clock called the circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Irregular sleep schedules or exposure to artificial light at night can disrupt your circadian rhythm and cause sleep difficulties and health problems.
To establish a consistent sleep schedule, follow these tips:
- Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends
- Limit exposure to bright screens (phones, computers, TVs) at least an hour before bedtime
- Get exposure to natural sunlight during the day, which helps regulate the circadian rhythm
2. Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment
Sleep can always be better, and relaxing for an hour or two before bedtime can help you fall asleep faster.
Consider these tips for creating a sleep-conducive environment:
- Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark to promote a comfortable sleeping environment.
- Ensure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive
- Reduce noise disturbances by using earplugs or white noise machines if needed
- Use blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out any external light that might interfere with sleep
Nurturing Healthy Sleep Habits in Children and Adolescents
Children and adolescents require sufficient quality sleep for healthy growth and development. Encouraging healthy sleep habits from an early age can lead to a lifetime of better sleep and improved health, even if the benefits aren’t all that appealing to children.
Here are some tips for encouraging healthy sleep habits:
- Set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time
- Create a calming bedtime routine, such as reading a book or taking a warm bath or shower
- Limit the intake of stimulating video games or screen time at least an hour before bedtime
- Teach teens about how sleep affects mental health
Sleep and Mental Health: Breaking the Stigma
When working toward a health goal like achieving better sleep, it helps to have tangible reasons to pursue it. It also helps to talk about sleep concerns with others; it helps to know you’re not alone in your journey toward better sleep and better overall health.
There are many resources to guide you if you still need help navigating your sleep routines or improving your sleep. It is worth consulting with your primary care doctor to rule out medical concerns that prevent your sleep from being stellar. While you may not require medical intervention to improve your sleep, it could be beneficial to begin incorporating healthy sleep habits.
We live in a culture that struggles with sleep. Similarly, we live in a culture that deals with various health concerns. Many adults do not sleep enough for multiple reasons. However, plenty of health and wellness incentives exist to improve our routines!
You can improve your sleep by combining the factors discussed in this article—starting small with the changes you make to your sleep routine is vital. In time, you will discover that these changes, while challenging at first, will enhance your quality of life, and you’ll even look better. You will see changes in multiple areas: social and emotional health, appetite regulation, cardiovascular health, cognition and learning, immune function, growth, and healthy skin. While some of these differences are subtle and can take time, many benefits will be immediately apparent.
Rest is crucial for many things essential to create a life you can enjoy (and continue to enjoy for years!). We know that sleep is the factor in pursuing a fulfilling, healthy life that quickly creates significant change if you stick to a balanced sleep schedule and rhythm.
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2. Sleeping too little – or too much – associated with heart disease, diabetes, obesity. American Academy of Sleep Medicine – Association for Sleep Clinicians and Researchers. Published October 1, 2013. Accessed July 30, 2023. https://aasm.org/sleeping-too-little-or-too-much-associated-with-heart-disease-diabetes-obesity/
3. Get Enough Sleep – MyHealthfinder | health.gov. health.gov. https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep#:~:text=Most%20adults%20need%207%20or
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8. Sleep Disorders and Heart Health. www.heart.org. Accessed July 30, 2023. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/sleep-disorders/sleep-and-heart-health#:~:text=Poor%20sleep%20can%20cause%20major
9. National Institutes of Health. Sleep On It. NIH News in Health. Published July 13, 2017. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2013/04/sleep-it
10. Cappello K. The Impact of Sleep on Learning and Memory | Chronobiology and Sleep Institute | Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. www.med.upenn.edu. Published December 21, 2020. https://www.med.upenn.edu/csi/the-impact-of-sleep-on-learning-and-memory.html
11. Olson E. Can lack of sleep make you sick? Mayo Clinic. Published 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757#:~:text=During%20sleep%2C%20your%20immune%20system
12. Van Cauter E, Plat L. Physiology of growth hormone secretion during sleep. The Journal of Pediatrics. 1996;128(5):S32-S37. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/s0022-3476(96)70008-2
13. Wassef D. Does Sleep Affect Skin? | Benefits of a Good Night’s Rest | DCSI. MyDCSI. Published January 23, 2023. Accessed July 30, 2023. https://www.mydcsi.com/2023/01/23/benefits-of-sleep-for-skin/
14. Samaritan Health Services. Is Getting Your “Beauty Sleep” a Fairy Tale? Samhealth.org. Published May 29, 2019. Accessed July 30, 2023. https://www.samhealth.org/about-samaritan/news-search/2019/05/29/importance-of-sleep-to-your-appearance-and-skin#:~:text=Sleep%20Protects%20Skin&text=%E2%80%9CYour%20skin%20goes%20through%20much