11 Health Benefits of Sleep

Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond decreasing under-eye circles.

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Sleep is something that everyone needs, no matter how young or old they are. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), sleep is crucial for having a healthy life.

On the contrary, insufficient sleep is linked to a host of health problems—from depression to cardiovascular disease to weight issues.

"Many things that we take for granted are affected by sleep," said Raymonde Jean, MD, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. "If you sleep better, you can certainly live better. It's pretty clear."

Here are 11 benefits of getting a good night's sleep.

You Can See an Improvement in Your Memory

Your mind is surprisingly busy while you snooze. During sleep, you can strengthen memories or "practice" skills learned while you were awake (it's a process called consolidation).

"If you are trying to learn something, whether it's physical or mental, you learn it to a certain point with practice," said David Rapoport, MD, founder and president of the Foundation for Research in Sleep Disorders. "But something happens while you sleep that makes you learn it better."

In other words, if you're trying to learn something new—whether it's Spanish or a new tennis swing—you'll perform better after sleeping.

The Potential To Live Longer Comes With Better Sleep

Too much or too little sleep can be associated with a shorter lifespan. This is because of sleep's relationship to the rest of the body's processes.

For example, according to the Sleep Foundation, oversleeping (sleeping longer than 9 hours within 24 hours) can result in chronic diseases or conditions like heart disease, obesity, or diabetes. Some of those conditions can lead to early death, per the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP).

Further, a February 2018 study published in the Journal of Gerontology followed a collective group of 55,494 people aged 50-75 and living in England, Finland, or Sweden, to investigate healthy and chronic disease-free life expectancy based on how long the participants slept and if they had sleep issues.

The researchers found that those who slept between seven to eight and a half hours—but not less than seven hours or more than nine hours—could expect to have one to three more years of longer, healthier lives.

Inflammation Levels May Decrease

Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. People who get less sleep—six or fewer hours a night—have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more.

In a September 2020 study published in Frontiers in Neurology, researchers noted that C-reactive protein (CRP), which increases whenever inflammation is present in the body, is linked to worse sleep.

People who have sleep apnea or insomnia can have an improvement in blood pressure and inflammation with treatment of the sleep disorders, Dr. Rapoport said.

You Might Get Some Help With Your Creativity

Get a good night's sleep before getting out the easel and paintbrushes or the pen and paper.

In addition to consolidating memories or making them stronger, your brain appears to reorganize and restructure them, which may result in more creativity as well—as noted in a December 2021 Science Advances study.

The same study also found that being in stage-one sleep for at least 15 seconds ignited "creative sparks"—the participants were able to figure out a secret rule for quickly solving math problems they had been exposed to while awake.

Getting Enough Sleep Can Help With Physical Activity—Especially for Athletes

If you're an athlete, sleep can improve your performance.

In a June 2021 Healthcare review, researchers investigated the links between sleep, athletic performance, match performance, training load, and injuries for soccer players. From some of the studies they reviewed, they found that poor sleep quality could negatively affect athletic performance and the risk of injuries, while increased sleep could have a positive effect on stress, fatigue, and mood.

The Sleep Foundation also indicated that sleep gives athletes the opportunity to rest their hearts, prevent illness, and improve cognitive processing (mental functioning related to taking information and storing it for use later).

Sleep Can Improve School Performance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that grade-age students could have poorer academic performance when they don't get the sleep they need.

For college students, sleeping for a sufficient amount of time can improve GPA, while insufficient sleep could lead to, for example, a lower speed of cognitive processing—according to a January 2022 review published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications.

"If you're trying to meet a deadline, you're willing to sacrifice sleep," Dr. Rapoport said, "but it's severe and reoccurring sleep deprivation that clearly impairs learning."

Your Children Will Be Able To Focus Better

A lack of sleep can result in ADHD-like symptoms in kids, Dr. Rapaport said.

The Sleep Foundation noted that children could switch from grumpiness to hyperactivity when they haven't had enough sleep as well.

"Kids don't react the same way to sleep deprivation as adults do," Dr. Rapoport added.

Thus, so your children can focus better, make sure that they can get the recommended amount of sleep for their age (which could range from eight to 13 hours), as noted in a June 2016 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine article.

Healthier Weights Come With Sufficient Sleep

If you are trying to lose weight, getting an adequate amount of sleep can help.

"Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same sectors of the brain," Dr. Rapoport explained. "When you are sleepy, certain hormones go up in your blood, and those same hormones drive appetite."

Researchers of an International Journal of Obesity study published in March 2021 studied the connection between sleep health and changes in weight. They found that the better the participants slept, the more weight and fat they lost.

Stress May Be Lower

Stress and problems with sleep are connected, as their relationship is bidirectional, according to a May 2021 Annals of Behavioral Medicine article.

This means that stress can lead to sleep issues and vice versa. Additionally, when it comes to our health, stress and sleep are nearly one and the same—and both can affect cardiovascular health.

"Sleep can definitely reduce levels of stress, and with that, people can have better control of their blood pressure," Dr. Jean said. "It's also believed that sleep affects cholesterol levels, which plays a significant role in heart disease."

You'll Be Less Prone To Having an Accident

In a December 2018 BMC Medicine study, the researchers indicated a simple connection between sleep deficiency and motor vehicle crashes: Being sleepy increased the risk for those crashes.

"Sleepiness is grossly underrated as a problem by most people, but the cost to society is enormous," Dr. Rapoport said. "Sleeplessness affects reaction time and decision making."

You May Be Able To Improve Your Mood

"A lack of sleep can contribute to depression," Dr. Jean said. "A good night's sleep can really help a moody person decrease their anxiety. You get more emotional stability with good sleep."

If you think the long hours put in during the week are the cause of your anxiety or impatience, Dr. Rapoport warned that sleep could not necessarily be made up during the weekend.

"If you sleep more on the weekends, you simply aren't sleeping enough in the week," Dr. Rapaport added. "It's all about finding a balance."

Ultimately, if you find that you're still having major problems with sleep, you'll want to talk to your healthcare provider for advice and treatment options based on your situation.

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