It seems intuitive—but research continues to confirm that getting adequate sleep every night isn’t just a luxury, but a necessity. Sleep is a vital part of our wellness. And yet the Centers for Disease Control reported in 2012 that 41 million American workers are not getting enough sleep.
“Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness, and mood,” says Dr. Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at National Institutes of Health.
First and Foremost: mood and mental ability
The most immediate reason to get a good night’s sleep? So you’re not dragging through the next day. Feeling alert and energetic is always going to make a big difference in how you react to challenges, work through tasks, and interact with those around you.
“Loss of sleep impairs your higher levels of reasoning, problem-solving and attention to detail,” Mitler explains. Well-rested people, on the other hand, tend to be more productive at work, have a lower risk for traffic accidents, and are able to deal with people around them better throughout the day.
So if you want the next day to go well get lots of sleep the night before—right? Not exactly. You can’t expect to feel rested after just one night of good sleep if you’ve had a string of late nights before. The effects of only five hours of sleep on Friday night can carry over into Sunday and Monday, even if you slept better Saturday night.
Ultimately, if you want to feel consistently rested, alert, and energetic day after day, you need to be consistent about getting enough sleep each night. Experts say that the average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep each night to avoid racking up a sleep deficit—and paying the price.
Your body has a clock. You’re not forced to live in sync with that clock, but when you can align your activities to its rhythms, things tend to go a lot better. Circadian rhythms, scientists now understand, can affect not only your sleep patterns but your weight, mood, and susceptibility to many diseases. Many systems in your body function by the release of hormones and the controlling of temperature—things that happen naturally as you sleep.
The health benefits of sleep
Getting enough sleep is a crucial part of your overall well-being. Just like eating smart and getting active, good sleep is something to actively plan as part of your path to wellness.
Can getting adequate sleep help you fight illness? Absolutely. Sleep helps your immune system stay ready to fight off attacks. On the flip side, as Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep-Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center tells WebMD, “If you have a weak immune system, you will likely be more prone to infection if you are not gtetting enough sleep.”
And Diwakar Balachandran, MD, director of the Sleep Center at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, adds that when you sleep, your body has a better fever response, which helps it fight infections. That may seem counter intuitive—a higher fever when you sleep more? but without that fever, you aren’t fighting off infections as well as you can.
So how do you get to sleep?
There are a number of natural methods to try. The first is to try to go to sleep at the same time every day—and wake up at the same time. give your body a reliable sleep pattern, and you’ll be more likely to be able to fall asleep at the right time.
Having a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep? Take a look at your sleeping environment. make sure all TV, Computer, and phone screens are turned off well before it’s time to go to bed. You might even try blackout curtains to keep as much light out as possible—or find a comfortable sleep mask. Even a little light can disrupt your sleep. Also, a too-warm room can keep you awake. keep your bedroom’s temperature between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit for maximum comfort.
Get comfortable. Pajamas that are too scratchy or tight can keep you awake. Try loose cotton, a long, soft nightshirt, or maybe even nothing at all. Keep your bed free of clutter so you can lie down without distraction. Invest in a good set of sheets as well—there’s nothing quite as soothing as slipping into soft, comfortable sheets. And if you share a bed, sleep on a mattress big enough that your partner’s natural movement doesn’t disturb you.
Getting to sleep at night may take some forethought during the day too. Avoiding caffeine after lunch, cutting back on the post-dinner alcoholic drink, and cutting out the “midnight snack”—all can help you drift off faster.
If you have insomnia or other persistent conditions that keep you from sleeping, see your doctor or a sleep specialist for proper treatment.
The bottom line is, making sleep a priority in your daily life can have an immediate, positive impact on your memory, mood and overall health. And getting your sleep is crucial to your vitality and well-being down the road.