All The Amazing Health Benefits of Sleep


It is fairly common knowledge that our bodies need sleep. We can tell this simply by the feeling of exhaustion we get when we go too long without it. It becomes hard to focus, even becoming more and more difficult to stay awake. Obviously, our body needs a break.

Sleep is about more than just resting, though. Sleep provides an incredibly large number of health benefits beyond just making us “not tired.” Things like the regeneration of damaged cells and retention of memories, among a multitude of other things, happen most effectively during sleep.

If you’re sleeping just to make sure you don’t nod off at work or school the next day, you are doing it wrong. It is time to reevaluate your sleeping habits in order to make sure your body is getting the full benefit of one of its most important functions.

Table of Contents

The Stages of Sleep

To first understand the benefits of sleep, you need to understand the various stages of sleep. Sleep isn’t a single thing. You don’t just lay down in bed and immediately start dreaming. Your body goes through several stages of falling asleep before starting the process over again. These steps are important to understand in order to figure out what your body is doing at each point, especially if you want to be a napper.

Stage One

In Stage One, you are now ready to sleep. You’re in bed, or wherever you intend to sleep, your eyes are closed and you have just fallen asleep, but it would be easy for anyone to wake you up. This stage can last anywhere from five to 10 minutes.

Stage Two

Once Stage Two hits, you’re asleep, but only lightly. Your body temperature will drop and your heart rate will slow, both in preparation of getting into a much deeper sleep.

Stage Three

At Stage Three, you are in a very deep sleep. Waking you up would take some effort, and waking up at this point would leave you feeling groggy. Nappers would want to wake up before or after this stage kicks in. At this point, your body is repairing itself, as well as doing other swell functions.

REM Sleep

After Stage Three, you enter into the rapid eye movement stage of sleep, called REM. The first three stages collectively are known as NREM sleep, or non-rapid eye movement. During each cycle, this stage gets longer and longer. During REM sleep your brain becomes active and your heart rate and breathing pick up. Waking up during this stage is fine, as your mind is active and you won’t be left feeling groggy.

The Nervous System


Sleep’s impact on the nervous system is possibly the most important, seeing as the nervous system is where your brain resides, and your brain really needs that sleep to keep going. It also needs sleep to do parts of its job, parts which can only be done while you’re sleeping.

Memory

Sleep isn’t needed to remember things. You know this because you can remember things you did in the morning when you think about them later in the day. To really remember something, though, you need to sleep on it. This can be anything from what happened at work to something you learned. Sleeping helps solidify that memory, making sure you can retain it.

This happens because sleep allows the brain to make adjustments to neural connections it creates throughout the day. New ones are solidified and sometimes old ones are tossed out. One study seemed to prove this function when groups of people were asked to do a task two times, but one group was able to sleep in between. The group who had slept performed much better.

Cognition

Do you enjoy making sure you’re alert and able to pay attention to multiple things at once? Your ability to continue to do so will be dramatically decreased should you not get enough sleep. People who sleep too little find themselves with issues concentrating and being able to multitask. Getting a good night’s sleep makes sure you are able to fully focus on whatever tasks may lie before you.

Cleansing Toxins

As you sleep, the brain does a little house cleaning. Throughout the day, toxins can collect in the spaces between cells in your brain. One such item, a protein called ?-amyloid, can start to gather. Since this protein is somewhat related to Alzheimer’s disease, getting rid of it would be ideal, right? Sleeping helps the brain get these materials out, keeping you healthier and, hopefully, Alzheimer’s-free.

Creativity

If you find yourself lacking the ability to think outside the box, it could be time to think about getting more sleep. While lacking sleep may not have an effect on your ability to answer questions with set answers, it does impact your ability to have original thoughts or come up with new ways to arrive at solutions.

It would seem sleep actually encourages creativity, with test subjects showing a better ability to solve problems after a night of sleep than those who did not. It’s one of the reasons you may do better in the morning on an activity which you may have previously found difficult.

Mental Health

Issues with depression and anxiety can be increased due to a lack of sleep. Maintaining proper mental health requires a good amount of sleep, at least six hours each night. According to studies, those who don’t get enough sleep, even those who suffer from insomnia, end up with higher rates of anxiety and depression.

One thought is the lack of a properly functioning circadian rhythm in people who are depressed. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, but depression can lead to a lack of sleep which can exacerbate depression. The best way to get out of that is to seek some professional help.

The Circulatory System

While the brain needs sleep, your heart needs a break, as well. Sleeping gives your heart the time it needs to slow down and relax, making sure everything gets set back to a normal level before the next stressful day kicks in. If you want to avoid having heart trouble, get some sleep.

Blood Pressure

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All across the world, and perhaps especially in the United States of America, high blood pressure and hypertension are a major issue. While this could easily stem from the stresses of modern life and working in a modern job, it could also be related to a lack of sleep, perhaps stemming from the same stresses.

When you sleep, your blood pressure drops naturally. People who don’t get enough sleep don’t experience this drop in blood pressure, causing them to have it high perpetually. Without using the reset button sleep provides, it can only get worse and worse until it develops into hypertension and needs medication.

Heart Rate

One issue which crops up often in people who don’t get enough sleep is a problem with their heart rate. According to one sleep expert, the heart rate doesn’t fluctuate as much, meaning it doesn’t slow down as much when not active and it doesn’t increase as much while active. Instead of slowing down, it just stays elevated, which puts quite a strain on one of our most important muscles.

C-Reactive Protein

In addition to the increase of ?-amyloid proteins, cutting down on sleep can lead to more C-reactive protein, often shortened to CRP. CRP is tied to stress and inflammation, two things which sleep helps combat. High levels of CRP also are related to an increased risk of heart disease, as well as other cardiovascular issues.

The Digestive System

One may not think there is a huge connection between sleep and what happens with the digestive system, but one would be wrong. Sleep can help with weight loss and digestion in a couple different ways.

Weight Loss

If you want to shed a few pounds, sleeping is a great way to do it. First, you do burn calories while you sleep. It isn’t a dramatic amount, by any stretch, but they do get burned. Additionally, proper sleep can help increase your metabolism, or at least keeps it from slowing down, allowing you to more quickly process fats and such.

Second, sleep helps with any appetite issues from which you may suffer. Specifically, sleep regulates the levels of leptin and ghrelin in your body. These hormones work together to make you hungry, which isn’t necessarily a good thing if you want to lose weight. Leptin is what you makes you feel feel and ghrelin is what makes you hungry.

Not getting enough sleep leads to lower levels of leptin and more levels of ghrelin, which together make you think you’re starving and that you want to eat more food. Obviously, this isn’t a combo you want to have.

Better Digestion


The debate about the best sleeping position has been going on for years, and the general consensus is that sleeping on your back is best for your body in numerous ways. However, there is also some agreement that sleeping on your side, specifically on your left side, is excellent for digestion.

This is due, primarily, to gravity. Because of the way digested food is moved through the intestines and into the colon, sleeping on your left side can help move things along. The waste can easily get where it needs to go, allowing you to go once you wake up. Additionally, sleeping on your left side puts your stomach and pancreas in a good position, one in which everything is allowed to continue pumping out juices and such as required.

Everything Else

Sleep does more than just help you feel better, it’s also necessary in order to heal and grow. Getting the rest you need gives your body the time to repair its broken parts, letting everything work out without any muss or fuss.

Growth

One of the reasons sleep is so important in growing children is the hormones released during deep sleep. These hormones promote growth, boost muscle mass and more in children and adults. If you’re working out and want to get bigger muscles, sleep. If you don’t want your kid to be scrawny and three feet tall, make sure they’re getting enough sleep each night.

Healing

In many of the same ways sleep promotes growth, it also promotes healing. During sleep, your body works to fix any issues you have. Cuts, sore muscles and more can be healed faster and more effectively with a little sleep thrown into the mix.

Immune Health

Sleep and your immune system are also intricately tied. Without sleep, your body doesn’t produce the necessary antibodies as well as it does with sleep. This was seen in people who had vaccines, which those getting sleep developing better conditions in which to fight sickness such as the flu.

Sex Life

Libido is based in large part on testosterone levels. Sleeping can work to keep those testosterone levels high, can assist in preventing erection issues and makes sure you’re rested enough for the activity. Not getting enouzgh sleep means you’ll not only be less inclined to want to have sex, you might be too tired to actually perform.

The Right Amount

Determining the correct amount of sleep for someone is very much dependent on their age. Different ages of people need different amounts of sleep to get the most benefit. Children need the most, of course, in order to grow properly, but adults should be getting a fair amount as well in order really reap some of these health benefits.

For infants, sleep should be anywhere from 16 to 18 hours each day. Preschoolers should clock in between 11 and 12 hours. Elementary students need at least 10 hours of sleep and teens want to aim for nine to 10 hours. As adults, we should be looking to seven or eight hours of sleep, though six is also acceptable.

Sleep Tips

In order to really make use of all of sleep’s benefits, one needs to actually sleep. This can be more challenging for some than others. Some people can fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow, while others toss and turn for a while, sometimes up to hours each night. Making sure sleep comes isn’t always easy, but that can be helped with a few sleep tips.


Mattress

Comfort is pretty important for good sleep. If you’re not comfortable, how is your body going to be able to relax and fall asleep? Your mattress plays a big role in this, and picking the right one can be something of a challenge. With so many options out there, which is best for you?

Memory foam offers a great sensation of sinking, good support and just feels pretty good in general. It also, however, has the propensity to get a little warm, even with some of the more modern technologies they have invented.

Latex foam mattresses work like memory foam, but have a bit more bounce to them and fewer of the heat issues. They’re not going to let you sink in quite as much, though, but if they have a good support layer, they can work very well.

Innerspring mattresses have also seen some advancements over the years, moving on from layers of interlinked metal coils to coils which have been individually wrapped, and sometimes filled. These give you that innerspring feel and bounce, but let the mattress conform to your body, whereas before everything just sort of sunk together.

Figuring out which best matches your sleep style takes some research and sometimes a little trial and error, but getting a good mattress is the first step to getting amazing sleep.

Foods


Keeping an eye on what goes into your body before bed is a big deal. If you eat something too spicy or something with a lot of acid, you’re likely to have a bad time. Eating foods like these can lead to issues with heartburn or, even worse, acid reflux symptoms.

There are few things are awful as waking up in the middle of the night and coughing up some stomach acid because you just had to have that spicy treat right before bed. If you’re going to be eating spicy foods, make sure to finish them off a few hours before it’s time to get into bed.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol before bed is a double-whammy of a bad time. Not only can it cause you issues with hydration, it can really mess up your sleep cycle. Yes, drinking alcohol can make you fall asleep much faster, but it causes several issues while you’re sleeping.

First, your heart rate tends to stay up throughout the whole night, though at varying levels. Then, your sleep gets messed up by having a delayed start of the REM stage, meaning your sleep won’t be as restful. A while into sleeping after drinking, the effects of the alcohol begin to wane, which actually causes your body to wake up a little, and eventually wake up earlier than you might have liked. All in all, this is not a good thing.

Caffeine

While avoiding caffeine before bedtime may be a given, you may not realize how long before bedtime you should be avoiding it. If you go to sleep at about 10 p.m., you should probably not have any caffeine after lunch. It can stay in your system, doing its energizing thing, for up to 12 hours. Obviously, everybody’s body works differently, so this can vary, but it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid caffeine after lunch.

Creating Sleep Environment

Perhaps the most important part of getting good sleep is actually creating an ideal environment in which you can do it. Bright lights and other distractions only serve to keep your mind more active, forcing it to stay awake when you should actually be winding down.

Mobile Devices

It’s very hard nowadays to go to sleep without spending a little time on your phone or tablet. Some people use them to read, others need to see the latest headlines or check their email one last time. Doing this, however, isn’t a good idea. The bright screens can serve to stimulate your brain, making you stay awake longer. Many phones have a night mode now, which changes the colors of the screen to warmer tones which are better for falling asleep.

Books


Using a mobile device may not be a great idea, but reading a book can be. The subject may be stimulating, but the act of reading can help to tire out your brain without having the additional stimulation from bright lights. Many e-readers can also serve in this function, particularly those which can simulate the look of real paper.

Alarm

One tip for better sleep is actually making sure you wake up in a better way. Harsh alarms with blaring klaxons will certainly jolt you out of bed, but you may not feel all that good about it. There are new alarms out there which actually simulate daylight, like the rising of the sun. This is a more natural way to wake, letting you gradually return to consciousness and leaving behind any sort of grogginess.

Putting it All Together

Getting the right amount of sleep is one of the best ways to make sure you’re living a healthy lifestyle. This has been tested time and again and proven to be true each time. Sleeping well helps you heal, strengthens your immune system, fights off cognitive diseases and depression and pretty much just feels good in general.

Finding time to sleep can be tough, but making sure to do it is vital for good health. Creating a good environment for sleep can help cut down the time it takes to fall asleep, meaning you actually get more time to do it.

When it all comes down to it, you can live a healthier life just by spending a little more time sleeping. What better excuse is there for getting a few more hours each night?

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