Benefits of Sleep: How Better Sleep Can Improve Your Health

Amber Murphy

Sleep is crucial to health, not something you can safely cut back on. If you sleep less to get more work done, you will work slower and accomplish less.

While you can stay up late occasionally, don’t make a habit out of it. You will ruin your health and happiness if you sleep too little for too long. Don’t underestimate the benefits of sleep.

Sleep clears toxins out of your brain. This makes not sleeping unhealthy – and there is no way out of the health problems it causes. Besides brain health, there are plenty of other ways in which sleep is good for you.

7 Benefits of Sleep

1. Sleep can help you lose weight

Woman waking up and taking her weight

Lack of sleep can make you hungrier. Poor sleep messes with your hormones – including ghrelin and leptin, which affect hunger. This is not a small effect – studies prove that poor sleep leads to obesity.

Getting less than seven hours of sleep is terrible for your weight. Different people need different amounts of sleep, and the quality of the sleep matters just as much as the number of hours. However, seven hours is a good general rule.

Not only can poor sleep lead to weight gain, but obesity can worsen your sleep quality. This creates a vicious circle that it is hard to get out of. Get enough sleep now to avoid chronic health problems in the future.

Sleeping less can even reduce your self-control. Activity in the frontal lobe of the brain decreases, making you more impulsive. With less self-control, you are more likely to eat fattening, calorie-dense foods.

People who sleep less eat more calories. If you are awake for longer each day and in a bad mood because you are tired, you will eat more. Lack of sleep also hurts your metabolism, causing you to burn fewer calories each day.

If you are limiting calories and sleeping too little, you may lose more muscle and less fat. Muscle loss while dieting is terrible for your health and should always be avoided. Sleep enough when you are on a diet so that you lose fat without muscle loss.

Tiredness can also lead to weight gain by making you less active. If you are tired, you might skip exercise or take it too easy when exercising.

Athletes perform better if they sleep correctly. Better sleep gives them better reaction time and more endurance.

Free meditation appDeclutter The Mind is an app that will teach you how to meditate, help you form the habit of a regular practice, and expand your mind to the teachings of mindfulness.

2. Lack of sleep raises cortisol

The stress hormone cortisol increases if you don’t sleep much. Cortisol is associated with weight gain as well as other problems.

The more cortisol you have, the more your body wants to put on fat. One of the most significant benefits of sleep is lower stress.

Lack of sleep can give you high cortisol at the end of the day and not only in the morning. If your cortisol is high at the end of the day, this can keep you up or hurt your sleep quality.

Cortisol makes you ready to fight. If your cortisol is high, your body expects to have to fight, run away, yell and argue, or otherwise deal with a conflict.

Your body produces cortisol when it thinks you are in danger and will have to do something intense and risky soon. Cortisol sharpens your senses and may help you win an argument, but it takes its toll on you. Chronically high cortisol keeps your body in fight-or-flight mode too often and will ruin your health.

Since cortisol can make you more alert, your body might produce it after a bad night’s sleep to sharpen your senses. This can lead to a bad night’s sleep the next night, so keep sleep and cortisol under control.

Thankfully, you can break a vicious circle. The ticket is to prioritize sleep. Make sure you spend some time winding down (not using screens or alcohol) in the evening before sleeping and spend enough time in bed. After prioritizing sleep for a while, your cortisol should go down, and better sleep should come easily.

3. Poor sleep causes insulin resistance

Doctor's equipment on a white sheet

Insulin resistance makes your cells unable to process sugar properly. Unhealthy people usually have high insulin resistance, and healthy people usually have high insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance not only leads to diabetes but many other diseases.

Insulin resistance is associated with many forms of chronic disease. In the long run, insulin resistance can shorten your life by increasing the chances of a stroke or heart attack. A person’s overall health is usually similar to their insulin sensitivity.

While the most obvious way to keep your insulin sensitivity high is to limit sugar, sleep also matters. Insufficient sleep for only six nights in a row makes your cells unable to deal with insulin properly.

4. Sleep detoxifies the brain

Until recently, scientists had trouble understanding why we need to sleep. Some of it is that the brain cannot easily detoxify itself when you are awake.

When you fall asleep, brain cells shrink. This allows cerebrospinal fluid to flow through your brain and remove toxins. The cerebrospinal fluid cannot pass through your brain easily while awake, as there is not enough room between the cells.

This brain-cleaning system is known as the glymphatic system, which scientists did not know about until recently. The glymphatic system may explain why sleep exists even if it poses an evolutionary disadvantage.

The need to sleep must have killed many of our ancestors over the millennia. However, we could not evolve to need much less sleep because it is not easy to clean the brain while it is conscious. One of the toxic proteins the glymphatic system removes is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

5. More sleep prevents cardiovascular disease

Sleeping too little, and maybe even sleeping too much, can cause diseases that eventually kill you. Many of these deaths are from cardiovascular disease. The benefits of sleep include a longer life.

Chronic lack of sleep is terrible for you and does not merely lead to tiredness that caffeine can cure. Sleeping less than 5 or 6 hours per night leads to a 48% higher chance of developing cardiovascular disease. The quality of your sleep may also affect heart disease risk.

For those who already have heart disease, poor sleep increases the death rate. Researchers are not yet sure how lack of sleep harms the heart. Possibly, lack of sleep leads to increased inflammation, which leads to heart disease.

The idea that sleeping too much can make you sick is controversial and considered far-fetched by many researchers. However, unusually long sleep duration is associated with worse health.

Possibly, poor health can cause long sleep duration, but long sleep duration doesn’t cause health problems. Researchers are skeptical that sleeping too much can hurt you, but it’s a sign of poor health.

6. REM sleep

Model of a brain

REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep, is the part of sleep where you dream. Dreaming is vital to mental health. If you sleep a lot but don’t dream, your mental health will suffer.

REM sleep seems to be how the brain makes sense of the day’s experiences. Your brain takes everything that happened that day and connects it to other memories.

This keeps you sane – if this process does not occur, your mental health suffers. Studies on rats show that less REM sleep lowers life expectancy. When it comes to the benefits of sleep, healthy brain function is a big one.

Studies specifically on REM sleep and not on all sleep show that poor sleep leads to weight gain. REM sleep is also linked to your ability to learn. If you are trying to learn a new skill during the day, insufficient sleep may prevent you from making progress.

Some people who get enough sleep don’t get enough REM sleep. Alcohol is something that interferes with dreaming.

Don’t use alcohol to help you sleep. It might help you fall asleep faster, but it ruins sleep quality.

Go to sleep at the same time and get up at the same time on most days. If you go to bed late some nights and early other nights, you get less deep sleep and less REM sleep.

7. Better sleep raises your testosterone

If you don’t sleep enough, your hormone production can shut down. Your body produces most of its testosterone while you are asleep, so your T levels are the highest in the morning and decline towards the night.

Testosterone is vital for both sexes. Women can also have deficient testosterone.

Testosterone improves energy levels, helps you recover after exercise, and gives you more confidence and sexual energy.

Testosterone also lowers cortisol and helps you sleep better, so there is another vicious circle where you can get trapped in a state of low testosterone and poor sleep.

As always, you can get out of this by prioritizing good sleep. The benefits of sleep include getting better results when you exercise.

How do you get better sleep?

Understanding how to fall asleep is the first step. Usually, the most obvious things are the most effective. Simply going to bed earlier can help. You won’t fall asleep right away every night, nor will you always stay asleep the whole night, so spending seven or eight hours in bed each night might not be enough.

Try to practice meditation daily. One of the scientific benefits of meditation is how it helps with sleep.

Screens make more of a difference than you might think. The blue light that screens emit tricks your brain into thinking it is still daytime and keeps you up. Stop using screens an hour or two before bed, or better yet, try a social media detox.

You can also fool around with supplements that help you sleep. Melatonin, glycine, and magnesium are some of the best sleep aids. Sleep in a completely dark room and wear earplugs to help you sleep at night.

Anything that can reduce stress and anxiety can reduce insomnia problems. Do whatever you can to de-stress – don’t underestimate the benefits of sleep. Spend time outside, meditate, exercise, and swim to keep your stress levels low.

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