Sleep serves as a time to unwind after a long day of work, socializing, thinking, and moving. This 7-9 hour window is the chance your body and brain have to make repairs, retain information, and rest so that you can feel ready to take on the following day feeling fresh.
Despite the importance of sleep, an estimated 60% of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Sleep is an essential ingredient to good health, but how exactly does sleep affect different parts of your brain and body?
In this post, we’ll discuss the importance of sleep, how it impacts your physical and mental health, and finally, we’ll offer some tips to help you improve the duration and quality of your sleep. Read on for a full scope of the importance of sleep, or use the links below to navigate throughout the article.
After a long day’s worth of work, school, and managing other responsibilities, many of us look forward to getting a good night of sleep. Just like you eat when you feel hungry, you probably feel a physical impulse — sleepiness — that reminds you it’s time to get some rest. But why do we sleep?
Like many human habits, sleep is an evolutionary characteristic that helps us hone our physical and mental performance when we are awake. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, there are several theories that aim to explain why sleep is important to human health:
Inactivity Theory: One of the earliest sleep theories, also referred to as the adaptive or evolutionary theory, indicates that nighttime inactivity is an adaptation that serves a role of survival by keeping species out of harm’s way at times when they would be especially vulnerable. The hypothesis indicates that animals that are able to remain still and quiet during these periods of vulnerability have an advantage over animals that are able to remain active.
Energy Conservation Theory: The theory of energy conservation suggests that the primary role of sleep is to reduce the energy demand and expenditure of a person during part of the day or night, especially at times when searching for food is least effective.
Restorative Theory: The long-held idea that sleep helps to "restore" what is lost in the body when we are awake is another theory for why sleep is important. Sleep gives the body a chance to heal and rejuvenate itself. These ideas have gained support in recent years from scientific evidence gathered in human and animal studies. The most impactful of these studies is one in which animals that were entirely deprived of sleep lost all immune function and, as a result, died within a matter of weeks.
Brain Plasticity Theory: One of the new and most convincing theories for why we sleep is based on observations that sleep is associated with improvements in brain function and organization. This phenomenon, known as brain plasticity, is not fully understood, but there are some important consequences for its relation to sleep. For example, it is becoming clear that sleep plays a critical role in brain development in infants and young children.
How Sleep Affects Your Health
While researchers cite the importance of sleep differently, we know that sleep is an essential function to human health. Sleep allows your body and brain time to process and recoup from the day’s physical and mental stressors. As a result, quality sleep can help you:
Be more alert
Feel more optimistic
Make better decisions
Succeed in social settings
Ward off disease
Now that we’ve answered the question, “why do we need to sleep?”, let’s take a closer look at what happens when we don’t sleep or don’t get enough quality sleep.
Cognitive effects of poor sleep
One of the main reasons getting enough sleep is important is because of its effect on the brain. Sleep supports several key functions of the brain, including memory, problem-solving, creativity, emotional processing, and decision-making.
With poor sleep, your brain can suffer from a variety of short- and long-term effects:
Short-term impacts of poor sleep: Drowsiness, attention issues, problems staying alert, lapses in memory, placekeeping challenges (i.e., motor skills, following instructions), and mood swings.
Long-term impacts of poor sleep: Cognitive decline and higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Sleep deprivation linked to higher BMI
Beyond cognitive changes, a lack of sleep can also impact your weight. Growth hormone deficiency and high levels of cortisol have both been related to obesity, and according to SleepFoundation.org, the two are now being connected to sleep deprivation. Additionally, the Sleep Foundation says inadequate sleep can also affect your dietary metabolism.
Poor sleep and depression symptoms
In addition to body and brain function, sleep has a big impact on our emotional wellness. Sleep issues can both be a symptom of depression and also contribute to the development of depression. In fact, sleep issues are so common in individuals with depression that a staggering 75% of patients with depression also report having experienced insomnia.
Sleep and heart health
Your risk of heart disease and heart attack rises without adequate sleep, no matter your age, weight, or how much you exercise or smoke. At the same time, people with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure, or a history of stroke are more likely to sleep poorly, particularly because of sleep apnea.
What is a Good Amount of Sleep?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, healthy adults should be getting between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep per night. Estimating the amount of sleep you’re getting is a relatively simple process — just keep track of what time you go to bed and what time you wake up. However, quantifying whether or not you’re getting good quality sleep isn’t always so easy to do.
Here are some common signs that may indicate that your sleep quality is poor:
Issues with memory
Reduced physical strength
Issues with immune function
If you’re experiencing persistent sleep problems, it can be a good idea to talk to your doctor about ways to find relief. In the next section, we’ll discuss some tips you can try in the meantime.
From temperature to noisy neighbors, there’s a lot that can impact the quality of your sleep. When it comes to improving the quality of your rest, adjusting your sleep environment is a great first step to take.
Invest in blackout blinds to minimize light pollution at bedtime.
Use ear plugs or address noise issues to reduce disruption throughout the night.
2. Adopt positive sleep habits
Spend time outside during the day to support your body’s internal clock.
Exercise daily to use up energy, but try to avoid working out close to bedtime.
Limit your caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon.
Reduce alcohol and cigarette consumption to improve sleep quality.
Avoid eating too late.
Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only — doing other activities can cause your brain to associate bedtime with things other than sleeping.
3. Set a routine
Creating a bedtime routine can help you get into rest mode and ultimately, improve the length and quality of your sleep. Winding down with a book, a few stretches, or some soothing music for 30 minutes can help you transition into bedtime. Unplugging from your cell phone, tablet, and laptop at least 30 minutes before bedtime can also be beneficial, as bluelight has been connected to lower natural melatonin production.
4. Eliminate physical stressors
On top of the mental stressors that prohibit us from getting good sleep, there are plenty of physical challenges that can also get in the way. From an uncomfortable pillow that results in your arm falling asleep at night, to acid reflux flare ups when sleeping, our products can help you address several of these issues. Meet MedCline.
MedCline Shoulder Relief System
Our Shoulder Relief System helps reduce shoulder pain, arm numbness, and general discomfort you might feel when sleeping. The system’s qualities can allow it to act as an arthritis pillow, providing support and comfort where you need it most.
Our patented, FSA/HSA-approved Reflux Relief System eliminates acid reflux symptoms while you’re sleeping by gently elevating your torso and positioning your body on its left side. This physician-recommended sleeping position has helped 93% of MedCline users reduce nighttime heartburn, and in turn, get a better night’s sleep.
Simple solution for breakthrough reflux pain at night
Clinically proven in 7 clinical trials
60-night relief guarantee
Bottom line: our bodies need sleep to sustain energy, body, and brain function. Use these tips to improve the quality of your sleep and your health in general. Check out our FAQ page to learn more about how MedCline products can help improve your quality of sleep.
Shoulder Relief System
Our system has a patented arm pocket that allows your arm to rest comfortably, alleviating pressure on your shoulder and triggering pain.
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MedCline was founded in 2011 by Carl Melcher, M.D, who was a life-long sufferer of GERD. Dr. Melcher wanted to help the millions of GERD patients with a natural treatment alternative utilizing positional therapy. Since development, the Reflux Relief System has been validated in 7 clinical trials. Aiming to help other medical conditions with positional therapy, MedCline has also developed a Shoulder Relief System for those who suffer with chronic shoulder pain at night. Both MedCline Relief Systems are providing much-needed relief for those suffering from nocturnal acid reflux and/or nighttime shoulder pain to get quality, restorative sleep leading to a higher health-related quality of life.