Why is Sleeping Well so Important?

We have all heard the term “A good night's sleep!’’, but what exactly does that do for us? Sleep is just as important as exercise and diet for our health, and right now, in the midst of coronavirus fears and stressors, it's more important than ever to take care of our bodies and minds.

Unfortunately there are many reasons why as a nation people are sleeping less, including work issues, family responsibilities and general anxiety. It's no wonder that quality sleep is sometimes elusive in our fast-paced society. Keep reading to learn about common fallouts from sleep loss.

Depleted immune system

While you sleep, your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances called cytokines. It uses these substances to combat foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Researchers have found that those who regularly slept less than 7 hours were almost 3 times more likely to develop a cold or suffer from viruses than those who slept 8 hours or more.

Sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from building up its forces. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body may not be able to fend off invaders, and it may also take you longer to recover from illness.

Weight gain and obesity

People with a short regular sleep duration tend to weigh significantly more than those who get adequate sleep. In fact, short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. A major review found that short sleep duration increased the likelihood of obesity by 89% in children and 55% in adults.  Researchers believe this is due to increased cortisol levels in the sleep-deprived. Studies have shown that too little sleep results in higher cortisol levels later in the day, which prompt the body to store more fat and use lean body tissue, such as muscle, for energy.  

Additionally, many sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, are worsened by weight gain. It's a vicious cycle that can be hard to escape. Poor sleep can cause weight gain, which can cause sleep quality to decrease even further.

Mental illness

Getting enough good quality sleep is highly linked to adequate energy levels, high motivation levels, emotional balance, and an overall positive outlook on life.  Conversely, mental health issues, such as depression, are strongly linked to poor sleep quality and sleeping disorders. It’s been estimated that 90% of people with depression have issues with sleep quality. In people suffering with poor sleep quality, mental health warning signs can include increased irritability, increasing anxiety levels or feeling less enthusiastic about normal activities.  

These symptoms can progress to serious mental health concerns or complications of existing disorders. For example, a lack of sleep has been shown to trigger mania in people who have bipolar disorder. Psychological effects of poor sleep should be taken seriously and sufferers should seek help from medical professionals. These serious psychological effects can include:

  • Impulsive behavior
  • Manic behavior
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, get in touch with a mental health professional or call 1-800-273-TALK for confidential help.

Low sex drive

Studies have shown that people who don't get enough sleep often have a lower libido. In one study of women, longer sleep was correlated with higher sexual desire, with each additional hour of sleep increasing desire by 14%. Researchers suggest that the decreased sex drive in the sleep-deprived may be due to the increase in stress hormones that results from poor sleep and their effects on overall hormone balance.

Another theory is that the libido effects are due to a drop in testosterone levels in both sexes. Adequate high-quality sleep is necessary for the normal production of testosterone, with the highest levels of testosterone happening during REM sleep, the deep, restorative sleep that occurs mostly late in the sleep cycle.  Both men and women need proper levels of testosterone for normal sexual function. And low testosterone levels in men can lead to many other health issues, as well.

Risk of heart disease

Sleep deprivation can lead to increased blood pressure, disrupted glucose metabolism, an increased BMI and higher levels of chemicals linked to inflammation. This complex of risk factors has been shown to greatly increase the chances of developing heart disease. The same results were seen in all age groups studied. Even teens with poor sleep had higher cholesterol levels, a higher body mass index, larger waist sizes, higher rates of hypertension and, therefore, an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease as they age. Interestingly, too much sleep seems to cause some of the same problems. The sweet spot for heart health seems to be 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep.

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night — but if you often have trouble sleeping, contact your doctor. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve.

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