How Getting Enough Sleep Makes Your Life Better, According to Science

How Getting Enough Sleep Makes Your Life Better, According to Science

Two years ago—before the pandemic hit—Americans averaged five-and-a-half hours of sleep each night, two-thirds of what a human being needs to function normally. Though no studies on 2020’s sleep trends have been published yet, it’s safe to say the numbers likely did not improve.

Google’s predictive search says it all. Type in “How to function” in your search bar and you’ll be offered the following searches: on no sleep, on little sleep, on less sleep, on 4 hours of sleep, on 3 hours of sleep. This is… not good. You don’t need to take our word for it that sleep is good for you; science agrees.

Improves Your Memory

Getting enough sleep is critical to both long and short-term memory. While you sleep, your brain makes connections between synapses. “We’ve learned that sleep before learning helps prepare your brain for initial formation of memories,” says Dr. Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, to News in Health. “And then, sleep after learning is essential to help save and cement that new information into the architecture of the brain, meaning that you’re less likely to forget it.”

Aids in Recovery

If working out is a central part of your life, getting 7–9 hours of sleep every night is a must. Sleep is critical to the healing process. “In fact,” says the National Sleep Foundation, “many of the critical restorative functions in the body—like tissue repair and muscle growth—occur mostly or only during sleep.”

Prevents Illness

Getting proper sleep enables your body to fight off infection. Many studies suggest that our T-cells—the powerhouses within your immune system that kill off foreign cells that lead to a broad range of illnesses—go down. Without enough T cells, your immune system is much less effective, since it can’t do its job fighting off microscopic invaders.

Gives You Glowing Skin

Slather on all the serums you want, but other than sunscreen, the best skincare is sleep. Sleep is a time for the body to repair itself, including our skin, which rebuilds collagen and repairs sun damage overnight.

In one 2013 study, “the faces of sleep deprived individuals were perceived as having more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles/fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth.” Yikes.

Keeps Your Hormones in Check

A lack of sleep causes you to be vulnerable to hormonal imbalance. Hormones act as catalysts in a number of processes in the body, and they’re directly regulated by sleep. These hormones include leptin and ghrelin, which control the appetite. Ever wonder why you feel like a bottomless pit after a sleepless night? It’s because your ghrelin hormone has spiked, effectively turning you into the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Deep Cleans Your Brain

Discovered in 2013, the glymphatic system removes wastes (soluble proteins and metabolites) from your central nervous system, aka your brain and spinal cord. Sleep allows the glymphatic system a chance to work, and REM sleep (or deep sleep) enhances its ability. What happens if the glymphatic system malfunctions? You could suffer some serious issues, from traumatic brain injury to Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. It should be noted, though, that because this system is a relatively new discovery, more research needs to be done to fully understand it.

Gives Your Heart a Break

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and while it has long been linked to smoking, poor diet, and a lack of exercise, new research continues to suggest that chronic sleep deprivation also plays a role. Because your cardiovascular system gets some much needed R&R during sleep, it’s pretty critical to your heart health to get those nightly 8 hours.

Keeps You Sharp

Getting enough sleep is crucial to cognitive performance (alertness, concentration, reaction time and ability to pay attention). We’ve all been there at some point: having to focus on a complex problem or a big project after a fitful night’s sleep. It’s nearly impossible. That’s because your frontal cortex is hugely impacted by sleep deprivation, which is responsible for all of your higher cognitive functions.

Clears the Fog

Pretty much everybody feels weird when they don’t get enough sleep, and one of the biggest signs is brain fog. “According to researchers,” says Healthline, “Sleep deprivation disrupts our brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, leading to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception.”

It’s Efficient

Even though sleep seems to take up so much of the day, it actually is efficient. More energy, a better memory, increased cognition, and mood regulation makes you more productive, and enables a much higher quality of work.

So if you—like the average American—are sleeping just 5.5 hours a night, you’re likely making mistakes, taking longer to make decisions, having difficulty solving problems, and probably not in the best mood. Getting enough sleep just makes you better.

This article was written with help and insight from James Cobb, MSN and author of The Dream Recovery System blog.