They say adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night to be healthy and functional… but whoever said that clearly hasn’t found anything good to binge-watch on Netflix. Or hasn’t had to work until dawn to finish an important presentation. Or hasn’t had insomnia so bad that no amount of meditating or sheep-counting makes it go away.
Regardless of the reasons why we don’t get enough sleep, we really need to get better at meeting that seven to nine-hour recommendation. As it turns out, getting a good night’s sleep is super important for your health on numerous levels.
It probably goes without saying that a lack of sleep zaps your energy, which can affect everything from your cognitive skills to your athletic ability. A study done with basketball players showed that those who had the recommended hours of sleep had improvements in their speed, accuracy and reaction time when they were on the court. A similar study conducted at Stanford with college football players found they improved their sprint times and had more stamina when they slept for 10 hours a night over eight weeks. And if you’re big into training, skipping out on sleep robs your muscles of much-needed downtime to repair themselves for your next HIIT class.
A good night’s sleep also makes you more productive and enhances your problem-solving skills. But did you know it can also help you improve your memory and your capability to learn? It works a little like this: when you’re trying to learn something new, it takes practice—and practice is often repetitive. When you sleep, your brain processes through all that practice so that when you wake, in a way, you’re learning it even better because your brain has had the chance to sift through what it learned during the day.
A lack of sleep has also been linked to depression. It goes beyond the basic “morning crankiness” that can accompany a night of insomnia—especially if your sleep issues extend beyond that occasional sleepless night. When you sleep, your brain processes your emotions… so when you don’t get enough sleep, you can’t work through some of the emotional content you need to process, which turns into negative emotional reactions. Studies have shown that insomnia can make you five times more likely to suffer from depression, and potentially develop anxiety disorders.
If you have weight loss goals, make sure you’re not short-changing your sleep. Sleep deprivation can disrupt your hormones and messes with appetite regulation, which can make you susceptible to overeating. The University of Chicago did a study with dieters and discovered they felt hungrier when they didn’t sleep… and when they did, they lost more fat—or 56% of their weight loss. The sleep deprived lost more muscle mass.
A lack of sleep has also been linked to a greater risk of inflammation, which leads to diseases including heart disease, arthritis, strokes and more. Studies have shown that people who skip out on the recommended seven to nine hours per night have a greater risk of heart disease or stroke, and those who sleep less than six hours per night have higher levels of C-reactive protein, which is an inflammatory protein that’s linked to heart attack risk. Plus, it can also affect your glucose metabolism, which can mess with your blood sugar and insulin sensitivity—and that puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes.
Some doctors say getting enough sleep can positively affect your cholesterol levels—and it also helps your blood pressure go down. And if you find yourself susceptible to illness, you might want to make sure your quality and quantity of sleep is better. Yep—it affects your immune system, too. Sleep less, and it’ll change the way your immune cells work. Over time, you may not be as effective at fighting off germs and viruses.
And if that’s not enough to convince you, good sleep can help you live longer. In one study, researchers found that more deaths affected women between the ages of 50 and 79 who got less than five hours or more than six and a half hours of sleep per night.
Okay, so you might not live forever, but at least you can create a healthier version of you without even lifting a finger. So find that hourly sleep sweet spot for you, cuddle up, and catch some zzzzzzz’s!