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Sleep is one of your most important health tools.

August 31, 2017

The benefits of a good night's sleep

You may not know this, but sleep is one of your most powerful allies when it comes to staying healthy. While you're asleep, your body is actually hard at work. This why it's so important to develop healthy sleep habits

Here are just some of the reasons why a good night's sleep is essential to any health regimen:

Your brain is highly active 

While you sleep, your brain guides your body through the five stages of sleep, each of which lasts about 90 minutes, including both non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. As you go deeper into the cycle of sleep, measured brain waves become large and slow, and blood flow to the brain is diverted to muscles. This is what helps restore physical energy and rejuvenates your body each night.

Growth and repair 

When we’re awake, our bodies burn oxygen and food and turn it into energy – more energy is spent than conserved. When we sleep, however, that’s reversed -- so that energy conservation for repair and growth of the bodies’ systems can take place. Body tissues are renewed at a higher rate during sleep than at any time in your waking day.

Fighting infections 

Researchers have always known that sleep aids in the recovery from infectious illness -- the suspected reason being the immune system’s higher production of proteins and other infection-fighting agents during sleep. Some studies have shown that even small amounts of sleep deprivation can depress the production of white blood cells – which are a crucial part of the body’s defenses against disease. In short, sleep = health.

Good for your heart 

Your blood pressure drops significantly as you sleep – which gives the heart muscle a much-needed break. Stress hormone production is lessened, which fights inflammation – which many health scientists are now fingering as a primary cause of heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments.

Sleep can keep you slim

When you’re sleep-deprived and tired during the day, you tend to overeat, thinking you need the energy. But what you really need is rest. More than one study has indicated that individuals who get a regular good night’s sleep consume as much as 300 calories fewer than those who don’t. Plus, the energy you get from a good night’s sleep gives you the discipline and willpower you need to say no to junk food!

Concentration 

It’s one of the most important benefits of sleep – the restoration and enhancement of mental agility and planning. In its mental benefits alone, sleep is perhaps the most powerful “drug” imaginable.

Everyone needs sleep 

The amount of sleep needed varies by age group. Newborns can sleep up to 17 hours daily, infants up to 15. Toddlers generally need 12 to 14 hours, preschoolers 10 to 13 hours, grade-school kids 9 to 11 hours, teenagers 8 to 10 hours, adults 7 to 9 hours, and seniors 7 to 8. Needs vary by individual, of course – but not as much as you might think.

An epidemic of sleeplessness 

In our 24-hour, “we never close,” hyper-scheduled, ultracompetitive society, sleep has come to be seen by some as a bother, and it’s almost a badge of honor to brag about how few hours of sleep you can get by on each night. But that’s completely wrongheaded thinking – chronic, deliberate sleep reduction is a huge stress on the body. By missing out on sleep, we’re deliberately saying “no thanks” to a laundry list of benefits that include feelings of renewal, better moods, sharper problem-solving, better memory skills, and even, say some doctors, a lowered chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.

Trouble sleeping? 

Exercise will help. So will gentle stretching, yoga, a warm bath, and skipping that nightcap – alcohol may put you to sleep faster, but it will disturb your sleep. Keeping things routine and ritualistic also helps – going to bed at the same time, in the same place, each night.

Scientists and physicians are studying, and learning more about, sleep each year. However, the reality is that there’s much we don’t know – which makes it easy to dismiss warnings over the danger of not getting enough sleep. What we do know is that there is a serious price to pay for the loss of sleep, and you shouldn’t be paying it.