The Benefits of Sleep (and How to Sleep Better)

By: Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN

You may have heard about the benefits of sleep, but you shrug them off and continue on with your busy day. Many people have a “I’ll sleep when I die mentality,” but getting proper sleep can actually make you healthier and improve your quality of life.

Keep reading to learn about why we should all get enough sleep as well as how you can start sleeping better tonight. After reading this article, we hope that you view adequate sleep as a necessity rather than a luxury.

 

Recommended Amount of Sleep by Age

Did you know that our sleep needs change as we age? According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, here are the current sleep recommendations:

Age Group Recommended Hours of Sleep per Day
Babies 12 to 16 hours (naps included)
Toddlers 11 to 14 hours (naps included)
Preschool-age children 10 to 13 hours (naps included)
School-age children 9 to 12 hours
Teens 8 to 10 hours
Adults 7 to 8 hours

How does your sleep compare to the recommendations? Too little sleep? Too much sleep? Taking it a step further, how does your kids’ sleep chalk up to these recommendations?

Whether you’re not sleeping enough or getting too much, your routine can have an effect on your health, mood and overall quality of life.

 

Benefits of Sleep

If you want to feel better, then it’s time to prioritize sleep. Doing so can yield some pretty great benefits!

Benefit #1: You can stay focused and think more clearly

Your brain and body never sleeps, even though you do! While you are sleeping, neurons in your brain work to communicate with one another and create valuable information pathways from the day. Allowing your brain to work while you sleep can even help remove toxins from the brain (1). If you’re not getting adequate sleep, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Delayed response time
  • Poor memory
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

 

Benefit #2: Decreases your risk of chronic disease

If you’re not too concerned with getting more sleep for a better mood, then listen up: Sleep deprivation can actually increase your risk of serious chronic disease. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep deprivation increases your risk of the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Depression

What do you think about that? To complicate matters, many of these diseases can affect how well you sleep, turning into a vicious cycle. If you can avoid these chronic illnesses with better sleep, then do so!

 

Benefit #3: Improves your mood

Sleep and mood have an interconnected relationship. If you have poor sleep, chances are that you have problems with your mood. Likewise, if you have mood disorders, this can affect your sleep patterns. While we all have bad days, do you or someone you know have chronic mood issues with the following?

  • Irritability
  • Short temper
  • Difficulty managing stress or feeling overly stressed
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings

 

Benefit #4: Aids in immunity

Aside from adequate sleep decreasing your risk of chronic disease, getting enough sleep can also help with improving your overall immunity. In fact, chronic sleep deprivation can make certain vaccines, such as the flu vaccine, less effective (2)! To help give your immunity a boost, strive to get the recommended amount of sleep each and every night.

If you’re really struggling to get enough sleep at night, try taking power naps throughout the day. A power nap can be 20 to 30 minutes on your lunch break or after work. However, make sure you set an alarm, because 1 little nap could turn into a 3-hour snooze that throws you off for the rest of the day!

 

Benefit #5: Can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight

People who are sleep deprived also run the risk of being overweight or obese. How so? Here’s how sleep deprivation can affect your ability to meet your weight loss goals:

  • Increased hunger and appetite, making it hard to control your calorie intake.
  • Trouble with metabolism (i.e. blood sugar management).
  • Increased concentrations of cortisol (a stress hormone) and ghrelin (the hunger hormone). No one wants to be stressed and hungry when trying to lose weight!
  • Decreased concentrations of leptin (the hormone that tells you that you’re full). This can prevent you from feeling satisfied with your meals and snacks.

As you can see, those trying to lose weight should strive to develop healthy sleep habits to help them reach their weight goals more effectively. Not getting enough sleep can really put you at a disadvantage in the weight loss game!

 

How can I get better sleep?

Getting better sleep is just one component of an overall healthy lifestyle. Along with physical activity and healthy eating, sleep can help you live a better life!

 

Tip #1: Stick to a Sleep Routine

Are you looking forward to the weekend so that you can sleep in and “catch up” on sleep lost during the week? If you tend to wake up way later (and go to sleep way later) on the weekend compared to the workweek, then you may be preventing yourself from getting better sleep.

Try to keep a similar sleep schedule for both the workweek and the weekend so that your body and brain can establish a good sleep rhythm. You may notice that your body will eventually adapt to the regular schedule!

 

Tip #2: Limit Screen Time Before Bed

Most of us are on our phones or watch TV right before bed. The light and activity can signal the brain to stay awake. Strive to limit screen time (for you and your kids). Make a rule in your household that screen time must be stopped 2 hours before going to sleep. This gives your brain time to relax before bed. Instead of screen time, you can consider doing these relaxing activities:

  • Read a book
  • Take a hot bath
  • Have a warm beverage (i.e. decaffeinated tea)
  • Stretching or yoga