11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

health benefits of sleep
— By Sandip Roy and Kate Riley

You know the obvious fact that sleep helps us restore our energies. But do you know about these eleven other terrific, surprising health benefits of sleep?

Dr Raymonde Jean, associate professor of critical care and sleep medicine at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital, says:

If you sleep better, you can certainly live better.

To find out more, take a quick dive into the next few highly interesting paragraphs that are based on scientific facts.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

A night of restful sleep is vital to our physical and emotional health. A habit of regular and proper sleep, along with daily exercise and good diet, keeps the mind and body in excellent shape.

But how much sleep do you need everyday?

Plain and straight: Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep every night. Exception: Children need more sleep.

It’s no more debatable whether we can cut out on our daily 8 hours of sleep and still remain healthy, or whether we can sleep less during the week and then play catch-up in the weekends with those lost hours — all research points in the opposite direction.

In fact, Daniel Gartenberg, a sleep scientist and assistant adjunct professor at Penn State, says that sleep can be more important to your health and productivity than diet and exercise. In an interview with Quartz, he goes further to reason that we actually need more than eight hours of sleep:

In order to get a healthy eight hours of sleep, which is the amount that many people need, you need to be in bed for 8.5 hours. The standard in the literature is that healthy sleepers spend more than 90% of the time in bed asleep, so if you’re in bed for eight hours, a healthy sleeper might actually sleep for only about 7.2 hours.

Research says the best way you can draw maximum benefit from sleep is to go to bed and get up at the same time everyday.

Research says the best way you can draw maximum benefit from sleep is to go to bed and get up at the same time — everyday. Click To Tweet

If you are having problems going to sleep, find out the world’s best science-backed sleep hacks.

Now take a look at these eleven excellent reasons why it makes sense for all of us to have a regular sleeping habit.

11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

1. Increases Life Span

Sleep is essential for many regenerative and restorative functions of the body and mind. Those who are able to catch at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night have a much better chance of living longer.

This is because sleep helps in promoting cellular turnover and autophagy which scientists say could increase our longevity. It is also perhaps because sleep is helpful in proper functioning of our immune system. By sleeping well, we can fight infections and diseases well.

A 2007 research that followed over 21,000 twins for more than 22 years, concluded that there is an association between sleep behavior (most notably in sleep length) and mortality, even though the exact mechanisms were unclear.

2. Improves Memory

Memory gets stabilized and strengthened by nightly sleep, and even during daytime naps, the scientists tell us.

Regular sleeping helps the brain to put together the events that have happened during the day and ensure that it gets stored as a long term memory. This process is referred to as memory consolidation. It helps children in particular to retain what they have learnt at school.

Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can weaken our working memory. Research by Casement found that when people were asked to recognize digits displayed on a screen by typing them on a keypad, the working memory speed of those who were allowed only fours of sleep were 58% slower than those who had their full eight hours of sleep.

3. Improves Attention Span

Those who go to school without proper sleep experience a big drop in their attention and concentration. According to a research published in the journal Experimental Brain Research, lack of sleep and a relative increase in the time spent awake burdens the brain’s attention system.

Lack of sleep could also impact short term memory, and especially children who get less than 8 hours of daily sleep perform poorly in their academics due to this.

4. Reduces Stress

Stress and sleep have a two-way relationship.

Stress can make sleeping difficult, and less sleep could increase the stress levels. All the while, we find it easy to fall asleep when our stress is under control. And a night of restful sleep can bring down the effects of stress.

There is no doubt that chronic stress is a killer and a silent one at that. For keeping the disastrous effects of stress at bay, sleep is an indispensable tool. A regular, proper sleep helps our stress levels stay under check at all times.

In stress, not only is sleep is difficult to come by, but even when sleep comes, stress can make our sleep fractured and disturbed. Stress also makes it difficult to go back to sleep once we wake up in between our sleep cycles.

And since we’re on stress, here’s one useful article: 10 Easy And Effective Strategies To Beat Stress.

5. Reduces Risk of Depression

First of all, depression is not a condition of blues that a person can simply will away. Rather, it is a serious disorder with persistent feelings of sadness, apathy, hopelessness, tearfulness, and thoughts of suicide, that needs medical treatment.

Depression has a complex relationship with sleep. Depression can make one oversleep, or it can make a person sleep too little. On the other hand, sleep problems can be a forerunner to depression. There is evidence that insomniacs are at a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well.

While genetics could predict higher levels of depression, almost each one of us could be prone to depression. Though you need proper treatment for it, scientists have reasons to believe that regular sleep could help in bringing down the risk of depression quite a bit.

6. Helps Better Weight Management

Improving your sleep can be a vital tool to maintain your weight. Studies show that subjects who sleep less than six hours a night are more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI). In comparison, those who sleep eight hours each night have the lowest BMI.

Habitual lack of a full eight hours’ sleep could lead to unwanted weight gain. This is because of the increased secretion of cortisol (our body’s “stress hormone”) which could lead to fluid retention and inhibit fat burning.

Poor sleep may also lead to food cravings after full meals due to the reason that it increases ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates hunger) secretion. It also lowers the amount of leptin (a hormone that tells us that we’re full after a meal) secretion.

Research has also shown that adults who sleep less than 5 hours a night have greatly increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

7. Helps In Muscle Building

While those gym sessions could help in muscle building, the actual growth of muscle happens when the body is at rest — while sleeping. Your weight training at the gym seems to break down your muscle fibers. Now, the actual rebuilding and repair of those sore muscles happen when you sleep.

The mechanism behind this phenomenon is this: During sleep, our body’s natural growth hormone is released which stimulates the muscle recovery and regeneration.

8. Improves Heart Health

There are research studies that show that people who have the habit of sleeping for 8 hours daily each night are less likely to suffer from strokes or heart attacks. Sleep helps to keep blood pressure within the normal range, and the heart less stressed while pumping blood.

A statement from the American Heart Association warns us that a pattern of irregular or insufficient sleep is linked to a bunch of risks to our heart health, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. The risk of dying from CHD (coronary heart disease) is much raised in those who get less than seven hours or more than nine hours of sleep.

9. Reduces Inflammation

Scientists have discovered that inflammation is at the core of our sleep regulation. They have found that our body’s inflammation is often increased when we have sleep disorders as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome.

Mark R. Zielinski and his team found that pro-inflammatory molecules are enhanced in the brain with acute sleep loss.

There is no doubt that sleep is considered to be one of the anti-inflammatory solutions and hence regular sleep could thwart the risk of heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis and premature ageing. It helps to reduce the production of c-reactive protein which helps inflammation.

10. Slows Down Ageing

Regular and proper sleep helps to reduce the signs of ageing — especially on our skin.

Research by Diego Mazzotti and team suggest that “disrupted sleep-wake cycle and chronic sleep restriction, highly prevalent conditions in the modern society, are strongly associated to age-related diseases.” They conclude that people who live till very old age (80 or more years) have strictly regular sleep patterns.

Of course, we must keep in mind that with age, our sleep quality declines. For more, read this engrossing article published in 2017 in the journal Neuron: Sleep and Human Aging.

11. Improves Sex Drive

Testosterone is the hormone responsible for improve sex drive and its production is improved by regular sleep. Eight hours of sleep could help in more ways than one.

This study has found that men who slept less than 5 hours a night for one week have lower levels of testosterone, than when they have full sleep. Lower levels of testosterone is associated with low energy, reduced libido, poor concentration, and fatigue.

Infographic

Here’s an infographic on the 11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep:

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[If you, or someone you know, suffers from poor sleep, here’s a thoroughly researched post on sleep science hacks here: 6 Scientific Sleep Hacks.]

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Authors Bio: Kate Riley is on the content team at SupplementMart. Being an ardent health lover, she writes on almost everything about health or supplements ranging from product reviews to awesome tips on living a healthy life. Sandip Roy is Founder of Happiness India Project.


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