November 5, 2018
Simply put, sleep is a crucial part of the body’s recovery process. Researchers with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say you need at least seven hours of sleep each night.1 Your body needs that time to repair muscles and cells, gather all of your new memories and information, and keep things operating at their best, both inside and out. Here’s what you need to know about those crucial hours of precious sleep.
1. Sleep Is A Stress Reliever
When you get less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep each night, chances are you won’t feel rested or balanced the following day. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported that 21 percent of adults stated that they feel more stressed when they don’t get enough sleep. The APA also noted that those adults who got fewer than eight hours of sleep each night expressed moments of irritability, being overwhelmed, and a lack of motivation.2
In fact, the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School goes as far as saying that lower levels of alertness lead to noticeable changes in brain activity, including general fatigue, lack of motivation, and occasionally nodding off. They also noted changes in concentration, working memory, mathematical capacity, and logical reasoning.3 Suffice it to say that sleep deprivation gives you undue stress and can lead to performance issues – all of which are managed by the prefrontal cortex, located in the front portion of your brain, which is particularly vulnerable to inadequate sleep amounts.
2. Sleep Is All About The Brain
In general, sleep and recovery can do wonders for your body. But your brain function gets some extra love, too, when it’s given time to slow down. Throughout the day, your brain is operating at full speed, but in the glorious first couple minutes of sleep, your body enters several sleep stages that target brain waves and activity, instructing them to take a break.
To break it down a bit, there are three stages of non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. These three non-REM stages are when your body changes from being alert to asleep. Non-REM sleep stages are when your heartbeat and breathing slow down, followed by slowing brain waves as you slip into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In REM sleep, though, the brain picks back up with wave activity similarly to when you’re awake, which may explain our tendencies to dream in that stage of sleep.4
MedExpress Pro Tip: Carve out some time in the evening to wind down – listen to music, read a book, take a bath – all in an effort to prep your body for a restful night’s sleep ahead. Those calming, dark moments trigger a release of melatonin, which tells your body it’s time for some shuteye.
3. Sleep Is An Immune System Booster
Your immune system has a tough job. On a daily basis, it's the defense system that protects your body from diseases and viruses. One of the best ways you can thank it for protecting you from all those germs is by giving it time to rest and build up even more defenses. While you’re enjoying your nightly Zzzs, your immune system is regularly releasing proteins called cytokines.5 They help protect you and promote sleepiness on a daily basis. And when you’re sick and fighting an infection, your body makes even more of those little guys. If you deprive your body of sleep, those precious extra cytokines won’t see the light of day, and your body will have a tougher time fighting infections.
MedExpress Pro Tip: When you do come down with an infection or virus, make an effort to get a bit more sleep. Your body will thank you for giving its immune system an extra boost.
4. Sleep Is A Healing Power
When you shut down your computer for the day, it’s with the hope that it’ll install updates and repair any issues before your next work day. Your body operates in a similar manner. When you shut down for the night, a recovery process is triggered. It can provide restoration to molecular and cellular changes after being awake.6
Your body will also thank you for the time you’ve given it to replenish the much needed, and excessively used, white blood cells. These white blood cells help ward off infections, like those mentioned above. And if it’s a matter of an injury (no matter how big or small), sleep promotes cell and tissue growth, which boosts the healing process. Combine all of that with the fact that sleep also helps re-energize muscles and metabolism, and it’s clear that there’s some pretty powerful stuff happening when you shut your eyes each night.7
And if exercise and lifting weights is your thing, sleep should be extra important component of your exercise routine. Why? Because your body needs time to recover, especially your muscles. When you’re asleep, your muscles receive extra nutrients and oxygen to promote growth and healing. Sleep also stimulates your pituitary gland to release human growth hormones, which aid in muscle repair and tissue growth. And because physical activity puts stress on your muscles and nervous system, they could really use some TLC each night while you sleep.7
5. Sleep Is A Fickle Thing
We’ve stressed the importance of sleep and making sure you get at least seven hours of it – but why seven hours? Why’s that the magic number? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine said that fewer than seven hours of sleep just isn’t enough time for restorative efforts to complete each night.8 When you don’t let your computer or phone finish its updates, it acts wonky and slow – your body will likely do the same if it can’t complete its restoration.
And what about naps? It’s tempting to shut your eyes during those moments after lunch when you’d like to doze off at your desk. While naps may provide a short-term boost in alertness and performance, they don’t provide the overall benefits of night-time sleep. You’re not making up for lost sleep by napping and instead need to fit those hours in at night time. But on a short term basis, that little extra perk after a brief snooze doesn’t hurt.9
Needless to say, sleep is a crucial part of each and every day for numerous reasons. Your body will thank you for giving it the recommend seven to eight hours of Zzzs each night. And if you’re curious how you can get your body ready for its ideal sleep state, consider these couple tips from the CDC10:
- Make sure your bedroom is a place for sleep – keep it quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Skip the heavy meals or snacks before bedtime and forgo alcohol and caffeine.
- Put your phone down and flip your TV off. Those bright lights stimulate your brain, which drives you further away from sleep.
- Stick to a schedule. Get your nighttime routine down and stick with the same bedtime each night…consistency is key.
Sleep habits may also be an indicator of what’s going on internally. There may be underlying health problems that cause sleep troubles. Poor sleep habits may also lead to other long-term conditions, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. Consider visiting your primary care physician or a specialist if sleep habits concern you or impact your health. Specialists may ask you to keep a sleep journal, which tracks your personal sleep habits, including when you lay down, when you fall asleep, how often you take naps, and how much exercise you get daily.
1 CDC: Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Published May 7, 2017. Accessed September 24, 2018.
2 APA: Stress and Sleep. Published 2013. Accessed September 24, 2018.
3 Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School: Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety. Published December 18, 2007. Accessed September 24, 2018.
4 NINDS: Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Published July 6, 2018. Accessed September 24, 2018.
5 Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick? Published June 9, 2015. Accessed September 24, 2018.
6 US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Sleep, recovery, and metaregulation: Explaining the benefits of sleep. Published December 17, 2015. Accessed September 24, 2018.
7 Dreams: What Happens To Your Body During 8 Hours of Sleep? Published July 2016. Accessed September 24, 2018.
8 AASM: Seven or More Hours of Sleep Per Night. Published June 1, 2015. Accessed October 3, 2018.
9 NHLBI: Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. Accessed October 3, 2018.
10 CDC: Tips for Better Sleep. Published July 15, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2018.