Sleep is a critical component of lifelong health and well-being, as important as diet and exercise. The effects of sleep on overall health are both broad and deep: regular, high-quality sleep lowers risk for illness and disease, particularly conditions that become more common with age. Sleep also pays a powerful role in regulating weight, and avoiding obesity. The restorative phases of sleep are essential to healthy immune function, and to the ongoing repair and rejuvenation of cells, tissues, and organs throughout the body. Sleep protects cognitive function, reduces stress, and contributes to emotional well-being. We need sleep to survive. But we need good sleep to live well and fully throughout a long lifetime.
Sleep well for a healthy heart
Sleep has an important role in cardiovascular health. A regular routine of high-quality sleep lowers risks for cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Both the quality and the quantity of sleep are important to heart health. Low sleep quality is linked to higher rates of heart problems. Research shows that both too little sleep and too much sleep can elevate risk for cardiovascular illness. Individual need for sleep varies – there is no one “right amount” for everyone. But for most adults, a regular sleep routine that includes seven to nine hours of nightly rest is sufficient.
Sleep influences diabetes risk
Type 2 diabetes is a serious public health problem in the United States, with rates that have risen sharply among adults and children for decades. Poor sleep is now recognised as a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Sleep affects diabetes risk in multiple ways. Studies indicate that poor quality and insufficient sleep disrupt the body’s ability to process blood glucose. Elevated levels of blood glucose over time can lead to diabetes. Poor sleep also alters levels of hormones – including insulin and cortisol – that help to regulate glucose in the body. People with sleep difficulties are more at risk for being overweight and obese, primary risk factors for diabetes.
Sleep keeps weight in check
Sleep has a significant impact on weight control. Sleep problems are associated with poorer diets, with greater overall calorie consumption, with reduced activity levels and with weight gain. Poor quality and insufficient sleep disrupt the normal functioning of two hormones critical to the body’s regulation of appetite. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates feelings of hunger, sending signals to the brain that the body needs energy in the form of calories. Lack of sleep leads to a rise in ghrelin levels. The hormone leptin acts as a counterpart to ghrelin, regulating appetite by signaling fullness and satiety. Leptin levels drop when sleep quantity is low. When short on sleep, you’re likely to feel hungrier and to eat more before feeling full. Over time, this can easily lead to weight gain. Research also shows that poor sleep can intensify cravings for junk food, and make you inclined to eat more heavily at night. Taking steps to ensure you receive regular amounts of high-quality, plentiful sleep can be a powerful protector against weight gain and the health problems associated with excess weight.
Aging healthfully with good sleep
As we age, conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes become greater risks. So too, do diseases associated with cognitive impairment and decline. Sleep takes care of the brain just as it does the rest of the body, replenishing and repairing cells, processing memory and information, regulating mood. With age, poor sleep is correlated with greater risks for memory loss and diminished cognitive function, as well as to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. Taking care to get enough sleep, as well as making sure your sleep is truly restful and restorative, may help guard against the likelihood of age-related cognitive disorders.
Keep your mind sharp
Throughout our lives, sleep is vitally important to brain heath. Getting sufficient rest improves attention span, concentration and memory, increases reaction time, and enhances creativity and problem solving. A strong sleep routine also enables regulation of mood and emotions. Our thinking skills, as well as our emotional state and outlook, have a profound effect on daily performance, as well as on relationships. Making time for sleep doesn’t only improve your physical health, it protects your mental health as well.
You take steps to protect your health during the day. Now improve your health even more by making good sleep a priority.