It should come as no surprise, then, that over a third of Americans report that they aren’t getting enough sleep. This trend starts early – 87% of all students in high school are sleep deprived– and is exacerbated by health issues – 1 in 5 adults suffer from sleep apnea, which makes sleeping even harder.
» Learn more: Sleep Apnea
This lack of sleep is startling, because getting the right amount of rest is crucial for your body to make repairs on itself and regulate things like your blood pressure and brain chemicals. In hopes that we all start sleeping better, I’d like to walk through some of the most important benefits a good night’s sleep can give you.
Building Your Body
As you sleep, all the tasks that your brain has to deal with while you’re awake (like thinking, moving around, and keeping your eyes open) are finally off its desk, so it can redirect some resources to tidying the place up.
After falling asleep, your muscles relax and your brain releases hormones that speed up tissue growth and blood vessel repair, meaning that cuts and scrapes heal faster.
In kids and teens, sleeping is also a prime time for growth, as the hormones responsible for bone growth and muscle development are both in high supply.
Additionally, your body also increases the number of white blood cells it produces, which boosts your immune system and helps you fight off viruses and bacteria. This is why doctors almost always prescribe bed rest when you’re sick – it lets your body focus on fighting off whatever’s making you sick.
Long story short, if you’re not feeling well, a good night’s sleep might be all you need to get back on your feet.
Mending Your Mind
The hormones released during sleep don’t just factor into healing wounds, it actually helps your mind function properly as well.
We all know the slow, sluggish feeling of being mentally exhausted. A lack of sleep can cause your thoughts to slow, your memory to become foggy, and your temper to flare. Some of this fogginess is fixed by allowing your body to make repairs overnight.
However, entering REM sleep, the deepest kind of sleep most of us get at night, has been shown to improve memory, learning ability, and your emotional health.
While scientists aren’t sure exactly what steps the brain takes while you’re asleep, they know that REM sleep plays a role in how your brain moves your memories from short-term storage to long-term storage.
One of the leading theories on sleep and memory asks you to think about your short term memory like a camera, and your long-term memory as your computer. While you’re asleep, your body takes your short term memories over to long-term storage, a process that some scientists cause our dreams while our brains are handling them.
This theory states that sleep helps you clear up space in the front of your mind so you can tackle new problems as they come up, which lets you think through the problems of a new day better.
Additionally, many studies have shown that sleep deprivation is linked to several psychological issues ranging from ADHD to depression and anxiety. While nobody is certain whether or not lack of sleep actually helps cause these conditions, most experts agree that a lack of sleep makes them worse.
» Learn more: Mental and Behavioral Health
Healing Your Heart
Your body might be exhausted after a long day, but your heart needs a break too, and proper sleep gives your heart the rest it deserves.
While you sleep, your pulse and blood pressure are able to drop down much lower than they normally are throughout the day. Your heart works non-stop all day, and even though it doesn’t stop while you sleep, it’s similar to cooling down from a long run by walking for a bit.
In addition to getting a well-deserved break, your circulatory system also needs sleep to relieve the stress on your mind.
When you’re not well rested, your body releases cortisol, the stress hormone, to help itself stay awake. Cortisol is what kicks our bodies into “fight or flight” mode, raising our blood pressure, forcing our minds to be alert, and generally making us tense up.
This tension causes higher blood pressure, even while we sleep. As we all know, high blood pressure isn’t great for your heart and circulatory system, so sleeping properly can greatly contribute to your heart health and help you avoid hypertension.
» Learn more: Hypertension
Getting the right amount of sleep may not be a life-or-death situation, but you can’t deny that being well-rested feels great. When you wake up groggy after hitting snooze a few times, that’s your body telling you to take it easy, drink some chamomile tea, and snuggle into bed early for a change.
If you’re still having trouble catching some z’s, we’ve got a few tips for a better night’s sleep here.
About the writer
Eric started in Quotacy's sales department, but moved to marketing after helping hundreds of people through their life insurance buying journey. Aside from writing about buying life insurance, he also edits Quotacy's monthly newsletter, runs our YouTube channel and produces Real Life, our podcast. Eric lives in Minneapolis, where his coworkers are trying to convince him to take his humor into the spotlight. Connect with him on LinkedIn.