10 Benefits of Good Sleep: Here’s Your Excuse to Catch More Zzz’s

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Sleep is essential for all living beings, and yet a staggering 40% of U.S. adults fail to get enough on a regular basis. 

Whether you’re among those struggling with insomnia or are simply looking for reasons to get more rest, read on to discover the top 10 benefits of good sleep. You’ll also learn practical tips to get better quality zzz’s–without having to manage conventional medication and its side effects.

10 Benefits of good sleep

Researchers are still understanding all the biological reasons we need sleep. But we know quality rest supports various bodily systems, helping ward off infections and chronic diseases. This is why it’s vital to address any sleep issues we may develop as we age.

Let’s take a deeper look at how rest can fortify and protect many aspects of our well-being.

1. Better cognitive performance

One key benefit of good sleep is improved cognition. While we sleep, our brains process and store information through memory consolidation, forming connections among:

  • Events
  • Emotions
  • Sensory input

This process not only clears waste products from the brain but improves overall memory while aiding executive functions, such as:

  • Complex thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision-making
  • Concentration

Conversely, sleep deprivation can severely impair executive functioning, negatively affecting our ability to work and learn. For instance, sleep-deprived physicians have shown a significantly higher likelihood of making medical errors. 

Research suggests this may have to do with disrupted deep, slow-wave sleep–which helps clear brain toxins–allowing the accumulation of amyloid-beta in the brain. Experts have linked excess amyloid-beta to Alzheimer’s disease, as it can form plaques in the brain.

2. Improved mental health

Studies show a close correlation between sleep disorders and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. That’s because, during sleep, the body modulates hormones and neurotransmitters involved with stress and mood, including cortisol and serotonin, respectively. 

Getting ample zzz’s helps us regulate our emotions and allows our bodies to manage stress more effectively. This can make us more even-keeled and resilient to life’s challenges. 

3. Stronger immunity

During sleep–particularly deep, slow-wave sleep–the body produces cytokines, which are proteins that combat infection and inflammation. These proteins promote a healthy immune response and help us recover more quickly from illnesses.

Sleep boosts the production and function of immune cells (including T cells and antibodies), as well, which are also critical for fighting pathogens. This is why, if you sleep poorly, you may contract viruses like colds or the flu more often.

4. Balanced blood sugar

When we sleep, our bodies regulate hormones involved in metabolizing glucose, reducing the brain’s glucose demand–resulting in more balanced blood sugar levels and, potentially, a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. 

According to one study, just four nights of poor sleep can decrease insulin sensitivity by 16%. Other research suggests getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night can double our likelihood of developing insulin resistance and, subsequently, type 2 diabetes–regardless of other healthy lifestyle habits. 

Balanced blood sugar can also positively impact other aspects of our health, including mood and energy levels.

5. Healthy weight maintenance

Good sleep is also pivotal for maintaining a healthy weight–for three distinct reasons.

According to Yihao Liu, Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois and coauthor of a study examining the correlation between work stress and overindulgence in unhealthy foods, “First, eating is sometimes used as an activity to relieve and regulate one’s negative mood, because individuals instinctively avoid aversive feelings and approach desired feelings.” 

“Second, unhealthy eating can also be a consequence of diminished self-control. When feeling stressed out by work, individuals usually experience inadequacy in exerting effective control over their cognitions and behaviors to be aligned with personal goals and social norms,” Liu adds.

Sleep also modulates hormones that control appetite, including ghrelin (which stimulates appetite) and leptin (which signals when we’re full). So, getting plenty of rest keeps these hormones balanced, potentially minimizing junk-food cravings.

6. Protection from cardiovascular disease

Sleep is also critical for heart health in that it:

  • Regulates blood pressure, reducing our risk of hypertension–a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • Slows our heart rate, allowing rest and recovery from daily stressors
  • Reduces inflammation–especially in endothelial cells lining our blood vessels–which, if uncontrolled, can make arteries more susceptible to plaque formation and cholesterol buildup
  • Modulates stress hormones like cortisol, which, in excess, can raise heart rate and blood pressure 
  • Maintains healthy blood glucose levels and weight, preventing nerve and blood vessel damage and decreasing the risk of heart disease

In these ways, good sleep helps keep your entire cardiovascular system running optimally throughout your life.

7. Better sexual health

Sleep also plays an important role in our sexual health by regulating hormones like testosterone, which influence libido. According to one study, getting even one extra hour of sleep can boost the likelihood of engaging in sexual activity by 14% the following day.

Conversely, sleep deprivation can reduce libido and cause sexual dysfunction–especially in older adults. That’s because getting fewer than 7-8 hours of quality rest can lead to a 10-15% drop in testosterone levels. 

8. Greater athletic performance and faster physical recovery 

Even if you’re not an athlete, you need sleep for optimal physical recovery and performance. Deep sleep stimulates the release of growth hormone, which is essential for:

  • Repairing muscles
  • Building bone density
  • Replenishing energy stores
  • Improving fine motor skills

Research shows athletes who prioritize sleep usually exhibit better performance and faster recovery from workouts and injuries. 

Insufficient sleep also increases the risk of injury, and can reduce motivation to exercise–which is vital for all aspects of our well-being. 

9. Reduced inflammation

Another key benefit of good sleep is lower levels of inflammation. In addition to heart disease, researchers have linked inflammation to: 

  • Obesity
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain cancers

Sleep regulates the central nervous system, which manages how our body responds to stress through the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Chronic activation of either of these systems can trigger systemic inflammation, putting us at risk for the various diseases listed above.

10. Greater longevity

By supporting our body’s repair processes, sleeping can help us live longer. One study found that men who get adequate sleep live about five years longer–and women, about two years longer–than those who don’t.

This is likely because, during sleep, our cells produce proteins that are essential for DNA repair and maintenance. If you give these cells plenty of time to regenerate, you can improve your lifespan.

Conversely, not sleeping enough can cut your life shorter. One study found that sleeping five hours or fewer per night increased the risk of death from any cause by roughly 15% compared to sleeping seven hours per night. 

The dangers of sleep deprivation

As you can see, sleep deprivation has enormous long-term consequences for our health. But it also poses significant immediate dangers.

Research shows that sleep deprivation impairs our judgment and reaction time similarly to being drunk. That may explain why drivers who’ve slept fewer than four hours the night before have 11.5 times the accident rate compared to drivers who’ve slept seven hours. 

Contributing to mood issues, illness, accidents, and chronic disease, sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy over $63 billion each year. So don’t take the risk; get plenty of good rest.

How much sleep do you need?

Recent research suggests that, for adults in middle age and beyond, seven hours is the ideal amount of sleep–and fewer or more than that could have consequences.

This study, conducted by University of Cambridge and Fudan University, used cognitive testing, brain imaging, and genetic data to examine nearly 40,000 participants. Of these participants, the ones who regularly got either fewer or more than seven hours of sleep reported:

  • More trouble with concentration and memory 
  • Greater symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Worse sense of well-being

So, seven hours may be just what the doctor ordered. 

However, we’re all different–and that includes the amount of sleep we need. Pay attention to your natural inclination to go to bed and wake up naturally to calculate what constitutes the best sleep schedule for you.

Natural tips for better sleep

If you struggle with insomnia, here are some practical tips to help you enjoy the benefits of good sleep on a regular basis:

Establish a regular sleep schedule.

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day–even on weekends–helps regulate your body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep naturally. 

Avoid caffeine and late-night snacks.

Save caffeine and sugary, high-fat treats for earlier in the day, as they can have a stimulating effect.

Limit screen time.

Screens emit blue light that can suppress melatonin production in the brain and throw off your circadian rhythm.

Avoid exercising at night.

Exercise increases alertness-boosting hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, so save intense workouts for the morning.

Create a sleep-friendly environment.

Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Consider blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine to minimize disturbances. 

Adopt a relaxing bedtime routine.

Reading a book or taking a warm bath can reduce stress and signal to your body and mind that it’s time to rest.

Manage stress.

Stress and anxiety are common culprits behind poor sleep. Try these stress management techniques to help you relax and unwind:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Mindfulness meditation

Consider natural sleep aids.

You might also consider herbal remedies like valerian root or passionflower, which both increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, producing a calming effect. Alternatively, you could try an octacosanol supplement. 

A study from the Japanese Sleep Institute found that octacosanol, a compound found in plants like sugarcane and wheat germ oil, reduces stress and normalizes sleep patterns in mice. It did this by lowering corticosterone levels–a stress marker in the blood in animals, similar to cortisol in humans. 

Just be sure to consult your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement.

Getting sufficient rest is essential for our wellbeing. Now that you understand the top 10 benefits of good sleep, try utilizing the tips above to develop a bedtime regimen that works for you. 

Once you make it a priority, you’ll see that getting more rest is a simple yet powerful way to boost your mood, productivity, and overall health.

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Author
Carrie Solomon

Carrie Solomon is a freelance health writer, copywriter, and passionate wellness enthusiast. She’s on a mission to help wellness-focused companies educate, engage, and inspire their audiences to make the world a healthier, happier place. Learn more about her at copybycarrie.com or on LinkedIn.

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