Why Is Sleep Important, Anyway?

How better sleep can improve your physical and mental health

Whether you call it hitting the hay, taking a snooze or catching some Zs, sleep is something we all need. But experts say most of us aren’t getting nearly enough sleep each night.

The CDC declared that poor sleep is a public health epidemic, due to the negative physical and mental health effects of not getting enough rest. Sleep deprivation puts your safety and well-being at risk, so it’s important to protect those precious hours of shuteye.

If you’re among the estimated 35% of American adults who don’t get adequate sleep, keep reading to learn more and discover helpful tips for falling (and staying!) asleep. 

How sleep works

Sleep affects every bodily function, from physical performance to mental health, immune system function and metabolism. But what actually happens to your body when you sleep?

During sleep, your body is actually hard at work to support your physical health and brain function. You may have heard the term “body clock,” which is an internal process that controls your sleep cycle. Your internal body clock runs on the circadian rhythm, a 24-hour cycle during which you wake up, become tired throughout the day, and eventually go back to sleep.

Light plays an important role in your body’s circadian rhythm. Nerve cells in the brain respond to light, whether natural or artificial, and signal to the brain to determine if it’s night or day.

When daylight decreases each evening, levels of melatonin in the body go up. Melatonin makes you feel sleepy and signals that it’s time to go to bed. In the morning, light causes the body to produce cortisol, which stimulates you to wake up and be alert.

The 4 stages of sleep

The body experiences a sleep cycle made up of four stages, which repeat cyclically throughout the night. Most people are aware we sleep in stages, but how do the stages differ from each other and what is REM sleep?

  • Stage 1 NREM: The first stage of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep is the transition between being awake and sleep. During this light sleep, which usually lasts several minutes, your heart rate, breathing, eye movements and brain waves all begin to slow down, and your muscles start to relax.
  • Stage 2 NREM: During this stage, which is usually the longest sleep stage, your muscles relax more and your heart rate and breathing slow down further. 
  • Stage 3 NREM: Brain wave activity, breathing and heart rate are their lowest during this stage.
  • REM: Why is REM sleep important? During REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep, the eyes move more quickly beneath the eyelids. Your body increases heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. This stage usually occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and is the sleep stage when dreams typically happen.

The sleep stages each last about 90-120 minutes. REM sleep makes up about 20-25% of each cycle.

How sleep impacts your body, mind and performance

Lack of sleep can lead to increased risk for a number of diseases and medical issues, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and mental health problems.

woman in white sports bra raising her hands

A good night’s sleep helps you feel alert and motivated. It aids with memory consolidation and problem-solving. Physically, good sleep can help you maintain a healthy weight and strengthen your immune system so you can fight off illness and infection.

Sleep and mental health are strongly linked. Adequate sleep is needed to maintain baseline mental health. Even one night of sleep deprivation can impact your mood the next day.

Long-term lack of sleep can increase depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. These issues can then lead to more trouble sleeping, causing a downward spiral.

How much sleep do adults need?

Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night for proper behavioral and cognitive function.

If you have trouble thinking clearly or making decisions, or feel tired during everyday activities like watching TV or running errands, these are signs you may not be getting enough sleep.

How much sleep do kids need?

Kids need more sleep than adults, especially children under 5. Newborns and infants need 14-15 hours of sleep per day, while toddlers and preschoolers ages 1-5 need 10-14 hours. School-age children ages 6-13 should get 9-11 hours of sleep. Teenagers need 8-10 hours per night.

Sleep is especially important for children, whose bodies and minds are still developing. Lack of sleep in kids is associated with behavioral problems, diminished ability to learn and retain information, poor eating habits and weight gain. 

Getting enough sleep is crucial for children’s executive function, meaning the ability to think, make good decisions and process information properly. A well-rested child is better able to avoid distractions during the day.

Kids who get enough sleep have better reaction times, problem solving skills, creativity and focus than if they get too little sleep. During the back-to-school transition each fall, these skills are especially important.

How does screen time affect sleep?

woman apple iphone smartphone

Evidence shows that using a screen shortly before bed can negatively impact sleep. Devices that emit blue light can interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, which signals your body to feel drowsy and go to sleep.

The type of content you expose yourself to before bed can also impact your sleep. TV shows, movies or news sites filled with tragedy, violence and conflict can negatively affect how quickly you feel asleep.

Sleep experts recommend going screen-free for at least an hour before bed to avoid these issues.

8 tips for getting more sleep

If you’re tired of asking yourself, “Why can’t I sleep?” here are some helpful tips for getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

  1. Set a realistic bedtime for yourself, then stick to it.
  2. Make sure the room you sleep in has low light and a comfortable temperature.
  3. Eliminate screen use in the bedroom from TVs, computers, cells phones and other electronic devices. Outside the bedroom, stop using blue light emitting devices at least an hour before sleep.
  4. Get the best quality and comfort level pillows, sheets and mattress you can afford.
  5. Exercise each day, but limit physical activity and exercise right before bed.
  6. Eat a balanced diet and avoid foods which can cause a “sugar high” followed by a crash.
  7. Avoid alcohol and caffeine for at least four hours before going to bed.
  8. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation or warm baths to wind down physically and mentally before going to bed.

If these tips don’t make an impact or you’re concerned you may have a sleep disorder, be sure to talk with your health care provider.

Can an herbal supplement help you sleep?

There are multiple pharmaceuticals on the market to help people sleep, but prescription sleeping pills can have unpleasant and unsafe side effects. People looking for a safe, natural solution to sleep problems have options. One of our favorites is PureCalm™ Nighttime.

PureCalm™ Nighttime is an all natural herbal supplement that promotes calm moods and restful sleep. The liquid drops support soothed nerves, relaxed moods and the natural transition to sleep. PureCalm™ Nighttime calms the mind so you can rest and wake up refreshed.

The formula is made in the USA from non-GMO, wildcrafted and organically grown lemon balm, valerian, California poppy, lavender and passionflower.

Takeaway

Getting a good night’s sleep affects every aspect of your life, from mental health to risk of heart disease to immune system function. If you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s important that you take a look at your lifestyle, nutrition and sleep habits and make changes that allow your body to get the rest it needs.

Sources:

  1. Jansen, E. “Sleep 101: Why Sleep Is So Important to Your Health.” University of Michigan School of Public Health. Accessed August 25, 2022. https://sph.umich.edu/pursuit/2020posts/why-sleep-is-so-important-to-your-health.html
  2. Pacheco, D. “Why Do We Need Sleep?” Sleep Foundation. Accessed August 25, 2022. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/why-do-we-need-sleep
  3. “Why Is Sleep Important?” National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Accessed August 25, 2022. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep/why-sleep-important
  4. Leech, J. “10 Reasons to Get More Sleep.” Healthline. Accessed August 25, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important

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