The Importance of Sleep for Health

man sleeping in blue blankets and a pillow

When we think about the most important actions that we can take to protect our health, we usually consider behaviors such as partaking in regular physical activity or eating a nutritious diet. Yet, an often-overlooked aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is sleep. Sleep has serious implications for your physical and mental health. Adequate sleep will help you recover from exercise, enable your immune system to fight off pathogens and increase cognitive performance. In fact, to highlight its importance to health, the number of hours that people sleep is included as an indicator in the annual ACSM American Fitness Index (Fitness Index).

Despite the proven benefits of sleep on overall health, many of us tend to view it as a luxury and fail to get enough sleep. In fact, the Fitness Index reports that less than 65% of those who live in America’s 100 biggest cities get enough sleep (this number improves only modestly to 70% when we look at the entire U.S. population). Chronic sleep deprivation can have serious consequences on your health. For example, data have shown that lack of sleep can impair your body’s insulin response1—which can potentially contribute to the onset of diabetes. Moreover, chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with an increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease2. Lack of sleep can also alter memory retention, cause a negative mood, and inhibit your capacity to operate a motor vehicle. Data show that sleep deprivation impairs your ability to function to a greater extent than if you were intoxicated3.

Considering the negative ramifications of sleep deprivation, it is important to develop good sleep hygiene that contributes to a healthy lifestyle. To accomplish this goal, we must first commit to making sleep a priority. This sounds pretty intuitive but can also be difficult to do if you are juggling several responsibilities. To find balance, try building your daily schedule around your sleep (in much the same way you schedule other important activities like doing regular exercise or eating). Remember, if you make something a priority, you will always find time for it! Another way of developing good sleep hygiene is to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day, regardless of whether it is a weekend or vacation day. Doing this will help you fall asleep faster and make sleep less stressful.

Another key trait in those who have great sleep hygiene is having a pre-sleep ritual. Developing a routine that you can implement at least thirty minutes before going to bed will help “tell” your body it is time to go to sleep. Adopt activities that will help you relax, such as, taking a hot shower, reading a book or reducing your screen time. The bright light emitted from screens can alter how our bodies release melatonin and adenosine, two key chemicals that initiate our sleep cycles. In turn, it is best to just avoid looking at screens altogether before you go to bed. Lastly, do your best to make your bed your sleep sanctuary. Obviously depending on your circumstances, this may not be possible, but definitely try to use your bed for nothing other than sleep. You can make your space more conducive to promoting sleep by limiting the amount of light that enters your room and setting the room to a cooler temperature. Making these adjustments will contribute to a more restful night of sleep and help you build a sustainable habit.

 

Sources:

  1. Knutson, K. L., Ryden, A. M., Mander, B. A., & Van Cauter, E. (2006). Role of sleep duration and quality in the risk and severity of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Archives of internal medicine166(16), 1768–1774. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.166.16.1768
  2. Pacheco, D. (2021, June 24). Physical health and sleep: How are they connected? Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health.
  3. Williamson, A. M., & Feyer, A. M. (2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occupational and environmental medicine, 57(10), 649–655. https://doi.org/10.1136/oem.57.10.649

 

Authors: Rafael Alamilla, M.S. and NiCole Keith, Ph.D. Ph.D., FACSM, IUPUI, Indiana University, Regenstrief Institute, Inc.

 

Infographic Sources:

  1. Markwald, Rachel R. Ph.D.; Iftikhar, Imran M.D., FACP, FCCP; Youngstedt, Shawn D. Ph.D. BEHAVIORAL STRATEGIES, INCLUDING
    EXERCISE, FOR ADDRESSING INSOMNIA, ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: March/April 2018 – Volume 22 – Issue 2 – p 23-29
  2. Bushman, Barbara A. Ph.D., FACSM Exercise and Sleep, ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: September/October 2013 – Volume 17 – Issue 5
    – p 5-8
  3. Pujalte, George G.A. MD, FACSM1; Benjamin, Holly J. MD, FACSM2 Sleep and the Athlete, Current Sports Medicine Reports: April 2018 –
    Volume 17 – Issue 4 – p 109-110
  4. American Academy of Sleep Medicine Public Safety Committee. TIP SHEET FOR HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS:
    Prioritizing Sleep & Managing Fatigue, 2021.

Infographic Author: Laura Young, Ph.D.

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