Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles. Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can benefit your heart, weight, mind, and more.
“Sleep used to be kind of ignored, like parking our car in a garage and picking it up in the morning,” says David Rapoport, MD, director of the NYU Sleep Disorders Program. Not anymore. Here are some health benefits researchers have discovered about a good night’s sleep.
Your mind is surprisingly busy while you snooze. During sleep you can strengthen memories or “practice” skills learned while you were awake (it’s a process called consolidation).
“If you are trying to learn something, whether it’s physical or mental, you learn it to a certain point with practice,” says Dr. Rapoport, who is an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. “But something happens while you sleep that makes you learn it better.”
In other words if you’re trying to learn something new-whether it’s Spanish or a new tennis swing-you’ll perform better after sleeping.
Too much or too little sleep is associated with a shorter lifespan-although it’s not clear if it’s a cause or effect. (Illnesses may affect sleep patterns too.)
In a study of women ages 50 to 79, more deaths occurred in women who got less than five hours or more than six and a half hours of sleep per night. Sleep also affects quality of life.
“Many things that we take for granted are affected by sleep,” says Raymonde Jean, MD, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. “If you sleep better, you can certainly live better. It’s pretty clear.”
Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get less sleepsix or fewer hours a nighthave higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more.
A study found that C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night.
People who have sleep apnea or insomnia can have an improvement in blood pressure and inflammation with treatment of the sleep disorders, Dr. Rapoport says.
Get a good night’s sleep before getting out the easel and paintbrushes or the pen and paper. In addition to consolidating memories, or making them stronger, your brain appears to reorganize and restructure them, which may result in more creativity as well.
Researchers at Harvard University and Boston College found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.
Be a winner
If you’re an athlete, there may be one simple way to improve your performance: sleep. A Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina.
The results of this study reflect previous findings seen in tennis players and swimmers.