Why Is Sleep Important? And Tips For A Good Night’s Rest

We spend roughly one-quarter to one-third of our lifespan sleeping. So, needless to say, sleep is crucial for good health. 

Sleep is a period that allows many crucial processing, restoration, and strengthening processes to take place in your body. More specifically, sleep is where (1):

  • The brain not only consolidates your learning and memories from the day but also gets rid of built-up metabolites and waste products through its internal cleaning system known as the glymphatic system. This cleaning system is only fully activated when you’re at rest, as your brain is too occupied with processing sensory information (e.g. touch, sight, sound, etc.) in the day. 

  • Your blood pressure lowers; studies have consistently shown that individuals getting insufficient sleep have higher blood pressure the next day as compared to those who had a great night’s sleep.

  • Your body reduces muscle tone in many of your muscles (i.e. relaxation), which can help relieve tension and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. This is also crucial for tissue repair and muscle growth; allowing you to grow physically stronger form the day’s experiences. 

Why is the Lack of Sleep Dangerous?

Many effects of a lack of sleep, such as a foggy mind and bad mood, are well-known. But the truth is, sleep deprivation can also have profound consequences on health, such as the following: 

Decreased immune function 

Research shows that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus (e.g. the common cold) (2, 3). That’s because sleep deprivation reduces the body’s production of infection-fighting antibodies and cells; this impairs your ability to heal. 

Increased inflammation 

Sleep deprivation causes your body to secrete more cortisol (the stress hormone) during the day (4). The prolonged elevation of cortisol levels can adversely impact your body's ability to regulate the inflammatory response, which, in turn, can promote the development and progression of chronic disease (5, 6).  

For example, cortisol limits the production of collagen, which is necessary to keep bones strong and supported–thus, paving the way to conditions like osteoporosis. 

Increased type 2 diabetes risk 

Multiple studies have shown that sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to maintain proper insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. When that happens, too much glucose stays in the bloodstream, which can then increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes (7, 8, 9, 10). 

Weight gain

Research shows that even a single night of sleep deprivation changes the body’s levels of hunger and appetite hormones, leading to increased hunger. Especially when it comes to sugary foods. Over time, indulging in these food cravings will undoubtedly lead to weight gain (11). 

Mood disturbances 

Studies consistently show that when people are sleep deprived, they feel more irritable, angry, and hostile (12). Perhaps more worrying is the fact that mental health issues, depression, in particular, are strongly linked to poor sleep quality and sleeping disorders (13). Poor sleep is even associated with an increased risk of death by suicide (14). 

Cardiovascular disease and stroke 

Research indicates that people who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, regardless of age, weight, smoking, and exercise habits. This is thought to be because the lack of sleep impairs the body’s ability to achieve extended periods in which heart rate and blood pressure are lowered (i.e. during sleep) (15).  

Neurological disease 

A lack of sleep can make it more difficult for your brain to get rid of damaged brain cells, which increases the risk of neurodegeneration issues, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A study published by the Canadian Association for Neuroscience also found that 80% of those who have a sleep behaviour disorder end up suffering from neurodegenerative disorders later in life (16).

Tips for a More Restful Sleep

Having trouble achieving the optimal 7-9 hours of sleep nightly? The following tips may help:

Start your circadian rhythm with early daylight

Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm. It’s responsible for keeping you awake and alert in the day, and tired and sleepy at night (17, 18). 

To maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, it’s important to seek out natural light early in the day. This starts your body clock and helps regulate the hormones cortisol and melatonin, which studies have shown to improve both sleep quality and duration (19, 20, 21). 

Stay physically active

Exercise can enhance all aspect of sleep and has been used in multiple studies to reduce symptoms of insomnia. A 1997 study, for example, showed that exercise nearly halved the amount of time it took for subjects to fall asleep and provided 41 more minutes of sleep at night (22).  

Limit caffeine after 12 

This might seem like an obvious one, but here’s why it’s overlooked. Caffeine is a stimulant. That means when it enters your body, it raises your heart rate and blood pressure, increasing energy levels. While that may be beneficial during the day, it can quickly become disruptive at night when you're trying to sleep. 

Because caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours, it means the coffee you drink at 2 pm is only half metabolised by your body at 7 pm (23). Half of the caffeine is still circulating in your body! Depending on what time you go to bed, caffeine may still be circulating in your system while you’re trying to calm your nervous system in preparation to sleep. 

To make sure caffeine doesn’t affect your sleep, it’s best to stop consuming it after 12 pm. This helps ensure that it will be out of your system by 10 pm for a great night’s sleep. 

And remember: not just coffee and tea contain caffeine. Chocolate also contains a considerable amount, depending on its percentage of cacao. So, keep that in mind if you have problems sleeping. 

Reduce blue light in the evenings

Exposure to blue light at night tricks your brain into thinking that it’s still day-time. And that reduces your body’s production of hormones like melatonin, which help you relax and get deep sleep (24, 25). To prevent facing any issues with falling asleep, avoid using blue light transmitting electronic devices like smartphones and computers before you turn in for the night.

Dim the lights 

As mentioned earlier, exposure to artificial light can hamper your body’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin (26, 27). To prevent stimulation (and aid a good night’s rest), dim the lights a full hour before bedtime. 

Have trouble sleeping? These 3 things can help

Tried the above-mentioned tips, and still find yourself tossing and turning in bed? Here are 3 more tips that’ll get you snoozing in no time. 

  • Have a warm bath or shower – Taking a warm bath or shower 1 to 2 hours before going to bed helps cool the body down by improving the blood circulation from the core of the body to its periphery (i.e. hands and feet). And this drop in temperature signals to your body that it’s time for bed (28).

  • Optimise your sleeping environment – In addition to minimising your exposure to artificial lights when it’s close to bedtime, you should also try to block out any street lights with blinds or curtains. Make sure your room is as dark as possible. Also, ideally, your bedroom temperature should be near 18.3°C (65 °F) to align with your body’s internal temperature. Research shows that this can help you fall asleep quicker (29, 30, 31). 

  • Try a meditation app – Relaxation techniques before bed are known to help improve sleep quality (32, 33, 34). And one of the most effective techniques you can use is meditation (35). For starters, you can try meditation apps, which guide you through the process. If you’re a complete beginner to meditation, Headspace, with its hundreds of guided meditations, will be perfect for you.  

Sleep plays a key role in your health. If you’re interested in performing and feeling your best, you should make getting in 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep daily a top priority. And if you’re having difficulties with that, don’t worry–just incorporate some of the tips covered above.

We spend roughly one-quarter to one-third of our lifespan sleeping. So, needless to say, sleep is crucial for good health. 

Sleep is a period that allows many crucial processing, restoration, and strengthening processes to take place in your body. More specifically, sleep is where (1):

  • The brain not only consolidates your learning and memories from the day but also gets rid of built-up metabolites and waste products through its internal cleaning system known as the glymphatic system. This cleaning system is only fully activated when you’re at rest, as your brain is too occupied with processing sensory information (e.g. touch, sight, sound, etc.) in the day. 

  • Your blood pressure lowers; studies have consistently shown that individuals getting insufficient sleep have higher blood pressure the next day as compared to those who had a great night’s sleep.

  • Your body reduces muscle tone in many of your muscles (i.e. relaxation), which can help relieve tension and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. This is also crucial for tissue repair and muscle growth; allowing you to grow physically stronger form the day’s experiences. 

Why is the Lack of Sleep Dangerous?

Many effects of a lack of sleep, such as a foggy mind and bad mood, are well-known. But the truth is, sleep deprivation can also have profound consequences on health, such as the following: 

Decreased immune function 

Research shows that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus (e.g. the common cold) (2, 3). That’s because sleep deprivation reduces the body’s production of infection-fighting antibodies and cells; this impairs your ability to heal. 

Increased inflammation 

Sleep deprivation causes your body to secrete more cortisol (the stress hormone) during the day (4). The prolonged elevation of cortisol levels can adversely impact your body’s ability to regulate the inflammatory response, which, in turn, can promote the development and progression of chronic disease (5, 6).  

For example, cortisol limits the production of collagen, which is necessary to keep bones strong and supported–thus, paving the way to conditions like osteoporosis. 

Increased type 2 diabetes risk 

Multiple studies have shown that sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to maintain proper insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. When that happens, too much glucose stays in the bloodstream, which can then increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes (7, 8, 9, 10). 

Weight gain

Research shows that even a single night of sleep deprivation changes the body’s levels of hunger and appetite hormones, leading to increased hunger. Especially when it comes to sugary foods. Over time, indulging in these food cravings will undoubtedly lead to weight gain (11). 

Mood disturbances 

Studies consistently show that when people are sleep deprived, they feel more irritable, angry, and hostile (12). Perhaps more worrying is the fact that mental health issues, depression, in particular, are strongly linked to poor sleep quality and sleeping disorders (13). Poor sleep is even associated with an increased risk of death by suicide (14). 

Cardiovascular disease and stroke 

Research indicates that people who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, regardless of age, weight, smoking, and exercise habits. This is thought to be because the lack of sleep impairs the body’s ability to achieve extended periods in which heart rate and blood pressure are lowered (i.e. during sleep) (15).  

Neurological disease 

A lack of sleep can make it more difficult for your brain to get rid of damaged brain cells, which increases the risk of neurodegeneration issues, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A study published by the Canadian Association for Neuroscience also found that 80% of those who have a sleep behaviour disorder end up suffering from neurodegenerative disorders later in life (16).

Tips for a More Restful Sleep

Having trouble achieving the optimal 7-9 hours of sleep nightly? The following tips may help:

Start your circadian rhythm with early daylight

Your body has a natural time-keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm. It’s responsible for keeping you awake and alert in the day, and tired and sleepy at night (17, 18). 

To maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, it’s important to seek out natural light early in the day. This starts your body clock and helps regulate the hormones cortisol and melatonin, which studies have shown to improve both sleep quality and duration (19, 20, 21). 

Stay physically active

Exercise can enhance all aspect of sleep and has been used in multiple studies to reduce symptoms of insomnia. A 1997 study, for example, showed that exercise nearly halved the amount of time it took for subjects to fall asleep and provided 41 more minutes of sleep at night (22).  

Limit caffeine after 12 

This might seem like an obvious one, but here’s why it’s overlooked. Caffeine is a stimulant. That means when it enters your body, it raises your heart rate and blood pressure, increasing energy levels. While that may be beneficial during the day, it can quickly become disruptive at night when you’re trying to sleep. 

Because caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours, it means the coffee you drink at 2 pm is only half metabolised by your body at 7 pm (23). Half of the caffeine is still circulating in your body! Depending on what time you go to bed, caffeine may still be circulating in your system while you’re trying to calm your nervous system in preparation to sleep. 

To make sure caffeine doesn’t affect your sleep, it’s best to stop consuming it after 12 pm. This helps ensure that it will be out of your system by 10 pm for a great night’s sleep. 

And remember: not just coffee and tea contain caffeine. Chocolate also contains a considerable amount, depending on its percentage of cacao. So, keep that in mind if you have problems sleeping. 

Reduce blue light in the evenings

Exposure to blue light at night tricks your brain into thinking that it’s still day-time. And that reduces your body’s production of hormones like melatonin, which help you relax and get deep sleep (24, 25). To prevent facing any issues with falling asleep, avoid using blue light transmitting electronic devices like smartphones and computers before you turn in for the night.

Dim the lights 

As mentioned earlier, exposure to artificial light can hamper your body’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin (26, 27). To prevent stimulation (and aid a good night’s rest), dim the lights a full hour before bedtime. 

Have trouble sleeping? These 3 things can help

Tried the above-mentioned tips, and still find yourself tossing and turning in bed? Here are 3 more tips that’ll get you snoozing in no time. 

  • Have a warm bath or shower – Taking a warm bath or shower 1 to 2 hours before going to bed helps cool the body down by improving the blood circulation from the core of the body to its periphery (i.e. hands and feet). And this drop in temperature signals to your body that it’s time for bed (28).

  • Optimise your sleeping environment – In addition to minimising your exposure to artificial lights when it’s close to bedtime, you should also try to block out any street lights with blinds or curtains. Make sure your room is as dark as possible. Also, ideally, your bedroom temperature should be near 18.3°C (65 °F) to align with your body’s internal temperature. Research shows that this can help you fall asleep quicker (29, 30, 31). 

  • Try a meditation app – Relaxation techniques before bed are known to help improve sleep quality (32, 33, 34). And one of the most effective techniques you can use is meditation (35). For starters, you can try meditation apps, which guide you through the process. If you’re a complete beginner to meditation, Headspace, with its hundreds of guided meditations, will be perfect for you.  

Sleep plays a key role in your health. If you’re interested in performing and feeling your best, you should make getting in 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep daily a top priority. And if you’re having difficulties with that, don’t worry–just incorporate some of the tips covered above.