Getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health. In fact, it’s just as important as eating a balanced, nutritious diet and exercising.
Though sleep needs vary from person to person, most adults require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Yet, up to 35% of adults in the United States don’t get enough sleep (1, 2).
This article tells you 9 reasons why you need to get more sleep.
1. May help you maintain or lose weight
Numerous studies have associated short sleep — defined as sleeping fewer than 7 hours per night — with a greater risk of weight gain and a higher body mass index (BMI) (3, 4, 5).
In fact, a 2020 analysis found that adults who slept fewer than 7 hours per night had a whopping 41% increased risk of developing obesity. Meanwhile, sleeping longer didn’t increase the risk (6).
The effect of sleep on weight gain is believed to be affected by numerous factors, including hormones and motivation to exercise (5).
For instance, sleep deprivation increases levels of ghrelin and decreases levels of leptin. Ghrelin is a hormone that makes us feel hungry while leptin makes us feel full. This may cause us to feel hungrier and overeat (7).
This is supported by various studies that have shown that sleep-deprived individuals have a bigger appetite and tend to eat more calories (8, 9).
What’s more, to compensate for lack of energy, sleep deprivation may make you crave foods that are higher in sugar and fat, due to their higher calorie content (10, 11).
To make matters worse, feeling tired after a night of too little sleep may leave you feeling unmotivated to hit the gym, go for a walk, or do whichever other physical activity you enjoy.
So, prioritizing sleep may support healthy body weight.
Short sleep duration is associated with an increased risk of developing obesity and weight gain. Sleep deprivation may increase your appetite and cause you to eat more calories. In particular, you’re more likely to eat foods high in sugar and fat.
2. Can improve concentration and productivity
Sleep is important for various aspects of brain function.
Cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance are all negatively affected by sleep deprivation (12, 13, 14).
A specific study on overworked physicians provides a good example. It found that doctors with moderate, high, and very high sleep-related impairment were 54%, 96%, and 97% more likely to report clinically significant medical errors (15).
On a similar note, getting enough sleep can improve academic performance in children, adolescents, and young adults (16, 17, 18, 19).
Finally, good sleep has been shown to improve problem-solving skills and enhance memory performance in both children and adults (20, 21, 22).
Good sleep can maximize problem-solving skills and enhance memory. In contrast, poor sleep has been shown to impair brain function and decision making skills.
3. Can maximize athletic performance
Sleep has been shown to enhance athletic performance.
Numerous studies have shown that adequate sleep can enhance fine motor skills, reaction time, muscular power, muscular endurance, and problem-solving skills (23, 24, 25).
What’s more, lack of sleep may increase your risk of injury and lower your motivation to exercise (24).
So, getting enough sleep may be just the thing you need to take your performance to the next level.
Getting enough sleep has been shown to improve many aspects of athletic and physical performance.
4. May strengthen your heart
Low sleep quality and duration may increase your risk of developing heart disease (26, 27, 28).
One analysis of 19 studies found that sleeping fewer than 7 hours per day resulted in a 13% increased risk of death from heart disease (29).
Another analysis found that compared with 7 hours of sleep, each 1-hour decrease in sleep was associated with a 6% increased risk of all-cause mortality and heart disease (30).
What’s more, short sleep appears to increase the risk of high blood pressure, especially in those with obstructive sleep apnea — a condition characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep (31, 32).
In fact, one study found that people who slept fewer than 5 hours per night had a 61% higher risk of developing high blood pressure than those who slept 7 hours (33).
Interestingly, excessive sleep in adults — more than 9 hours — was also shown to increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure (29, 30, 33).
Sleeping fewer than seven hours per night is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
5. Affects sugar metabolism and type 2 diabetes risk
Short sleep is associated with a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance — which is when your body cannot use the hormone insulin properly (34).
In fact, an analysis of 36 studies in over 1 million participants found that very short sleep of fewer than 5 hours and short sleep of fewer than 6 hours increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 48% and 18%, respectively (35).
It’s thought that sleep deprivation can cause physiological changes like decreased insulin sensitivity, increased inflammation, and hunger hormone changes, as well as behavioral changes like poor decision making and greater food intake — all of which increase diabetes risk (36).
Plus, sleep deprivation is associated with a higher risk of developing obesity, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. These factors also increase your risk of diabetes (36, 37).
Many studies show a strong association between chronic sleep deprivation and risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
6. Poor sleep is linked to depression
Mental health concerns, such as depression, are strongly linked to poor sleep quality and sleeping disorders (38, 39, 40).
One study in 2,672 participants found that those with anxiety and depression were more likely to report poorer sleep scores than those without anxiety and depression (40).
In other studies, people with sleeping disorders like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea also report higher rates of depression than those without (41, 42).
If you have trouble with sleep and notice your mental health has worsened, it’s important to speak with your healthcare professional.
Poor sleeping patterns are strongly linked to depression, particularly for those with a sleeping disorder.
7. Supports a healthy immune system
Lack of sleep has been shown to impair immune function (43, 44).
In one study, participants who slept fewer than 5 hours per night were 4.5 times more likely to develop a cold compared than who slept more than 7 hours. Those who slept 5–6 hours were 4.24 times more likely (45).
Some data also suggests that proper sleep may improve your body’s antibody responses to influenza vaccines (46).
Recently, preliminary data shows that getting enough sleep before and after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination may improve vaccine efficacy. Still, more research is needed to better understand this possible connection (47, 48, 49, 50).
Getting at least 7 hours of sleep can improve your immune function and help fight the common cold. It may also improve COVID-19 vaccine efficacy, though more research is needed.
8. Poor sleep is linked to increased inflammation
Poor sleep can have a major effect on inflammation in the body.
Sleep plays a key role in the regulation of our central nervous system. In particular, it’s involved in the stress-response systems known as the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (51).
Sleep loss, especially from disturbed sleep, is known to activate inflammatory signaling pathways and lead to higher levels of undesirable markers of inflammation, like interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein (51, 52).
Over time, chronic inflammation can cause the development of many chronic conditions, including obesity, heart disease, certain types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and type 2 diabetes (51, 52).
Sleep disturbance is linked to higher levels of inflammation. Over time, this can increase your risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
9. Affects emotions and social interactions
Sleep loss reduces your ability to regulate emotions and interact socially.
When we’re tired, we have a harder time controlling emotional outbursts and our behaviors in front of others. Tiredness may also affect our ability to respond to humor and show empathy (53, 54).
Plus, those who are chronically sleep-deprived are more likely to withdrawal from social events and experience loneliness (55).
Prioritizing sleep may be a key way to improve your relationships with others and help you become more social.
If you deal with loneliness or emotional outbursts, don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, family member, or healthcare professional to get support. To learn more, view this list of resources.
Sleep deprivation may reduce your social skills and ability to process emotions.
Lack of sleep can be dangerous
Not getting enough sleep can be dangerous for yourself and others.
When we’re tired, our ability to focus on tasks, reflexes, and reaction times decreases. In fact, being severely sleep-deprived is comparable to having consumed excess alcohol.
Concerningly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 25 people have fallen asleep at the wheel while driving. Those who slept fewer than 6 hours were most likely to fall asleep while driving (56).
One 2018 study found that people who slept 6, 5, 4, or fewer than 4 hours had a risk of causing a car accident that was 1.3, 1.9, 2.9, and 15.1 times higher, respectively. This study suggests that your risk of a car accident increases significantly with each hour of lost sleep (57).
Further, the CDC reports that staying awake for more than 18 hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05%. After 24 hours, this increases to 1.00%, which is over the legal driving limit (56).
In addition to increased risks associated with driving, lack of sleep may also increase the risk of workplace injury and errors (58).
All in all, getting proper sleep is important for everyone’s safety.
Severe sleep deprivation increases your risk of getting in a car accident or being injured at work. It can greatly affect your ability to make critical decisions.
The bottom line
Along with nutrition and exercise, taking care of your sleep is one of the pillars of health.
Lack of sleep is associated with many negative health effects, including increased risk of heart disease, depression, weight gain, inflammation, and sickness.
Though individual needs vary, most research suggests that you should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health.
Just like you prioritize your diet and physical activity, it’s time to give sleep the attention it deserves.
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Just one thing
Try this today: For the next week, keep track of how many hours of sleep you get per night. If it’s less than 7, try to go to bed 30 minutes earlier every day the following week. Gradually increase this until you’re getting at least 7 hours per night.