9 little known benefits of sleep
Sleep is incredibly important. It’s an essential daily function that we all need in order to allow our bodies and brains to rest, recuperate and recharge.
We also need sleep for a variety of other reasons, many of which we’re all very familiar with. We know how a lack of sleep can affect our concentration, our ability to think clearly and our stress and anxiety levels, for example.
A good night’s rest benefits us all in a whole host of other ways too. Let’s explore nine of the lesser known ways in which sleep makes a positive difference to our daily lives…
1. Sleeping well can help to relieve pain
Pain is communicated in the body via a form of signalling system that operates between the brain and nervous system. Sleep disruption has been shown to interfere with the signals. This can result in pain being felt much severely in those that suffer with it.
Studies have been carried out which show that people that sleep better maintain higher pain tolerance than those that don’t.1 Effectively, painful things are more painful when you’re sleep deprived.
2. Sleep helps maintain a healthy heart
Regular deep sleep has been shown to have a particularly positive effect on one specific organ, a very important one – the heart.
Cardiovascular health is put at risk by ongoing and serious sleep deprivation2. Starved of regular sleep, research has shown that the following heart-related issues are increasingly possible:
- High blood pressure
- Lowered heart function
- Heart disease
All of these issues are much more likely if you already suffer with heart issues.
Interestingly, it’s not just a lack of sleep that can lead to heart health issues. It’s been shown that too much sleep can result in higher blood pressure and an increase in the chance of developing heart disease.3
You need the right amount of sleep. Don’t deprive yourself and don’t sleep excessively.
3. Healthy sleep keeps blood sugar levels steady
Another lesser known function of sleep is that it helps your metabolism. Deprive yourself of deep sleep and you can interrupt the body’s ability to regulate your blood sugar levels.4
Struggle to maintain your sugar levels and you increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, a lack of deep sleep can likely worsen the condition. It’s also shown to lead to decreased insulin sensitivity.5
4. High quality sleep can assist with weight control
Regular full sleep helps encourage the body’s production of two hormones that are used to control appetite: leptin and ghrelin. Fail to get enough slumber at night and you won’t create the required amount of either, both of which regulate hunger pangs. Leptin makes us feel full, while ghrelin tells the brain we’re hungry.6
To keep this hormonal balance in check, you need high quality sleep. You also require plenty of it to give you the motivation and energy required to exercise.
5. Your immune system is boosted when you're well rested
To keep you fighting fit and free of colds, viruses and harmful bacteria, your immune system is constantly on red alert. To function at its best, like all your other systems, it requires sleep. Starve your immune of it and you impair its ability to work.
It’s been shown in studies that immune cells respond slower in people who don’t get enough rest. One such clinical trial demonstrated that test subjects getting less than six hours sleep a night were more than four times more likely to contract the common cold than those enjoying seven or more hours per hour.7
6. Vaccine efficacy is boosted in those that sleep well
Influenza and virus vaccines depend on your body’s antibody responses being sharp. Sleep well and it’s likely they will be. However, miss vital hours of sleep at night and you could well be causing a drop in vaccine efficacy.
It’s thought that, post-vaccination, a well-rested person can produce double the antibodies of someone that’s sleep deprived.8
7. Adequate sleep reduces your risk of causing car accidents
Extreme tiredness has been shown to lead to mental impairment not dissimilar to being drunk. The phenomenon is sometimes referred to as ‘drowsy-driving’.9 It’s serious too, as the sleep deprived find themselves at a significantly higher risk of causing car accidents.
Research carried out in 2018 showed that sleeping for six or fewer hours a night was associated with a 33% increase in crash risk, compared to sleeping seven or eight hours per night.10
So not only is getting enough sleep healthy for the individual, it can prove to be safer for others too.
8. You can reduce the chance of chronic inflammation with high quality sleep
Inflammation is behind some of the most common and damaging afflictions a person can suffer from.11 It’s not always obvious to a person when they’re suffering with one or more forms of chronic internal inflammation, either.
What does this have to do with sleep? Sleep loss can have quite a serious effect on the various inflammatory processes within the body. The reason being is that sleep regulates ‘inflammatory signalling pathways’, effectively making sure it’s kept in check.12
Too much internal inflammation can lead to serious health issues such as:
- Heart disease
- Certain types of cancer
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Type 2 diabetes
9. Good sleepers demonstrate superior learning skills
It stands to reason that being well rested would help you keep clear headed and able to concentrate. But did you know that making sure you sleep well can also help you soak up and retain information? Good sleepers are also good learners.
Students who sleep less have been shown to very often score lower in exams. The reason being is that sleep effectively helps to carry memories to the brain’s long-term memory bank.
When we learn new information, that data is collected up and stored in the brain’s hippocampus. That’s basically the short-term memory bank. This area has a limited storage capacity and so information is regularly cleared from there to make room. This happens quietly and efficiently at night, when we sleep.
In studies, MRI scans have shown that it’s during the slow brain waves of stage 3 sleep (deep non-REM sleep) that this couriering happens. Fail to reach this stage regularly and the information often gets lost on its way to the part of the brain that stores memories for longer periods of time.13
Sleep. It’s vital in so many fairly established ways. But also in so many lesser-known ways too.
1, The effects of total sleep deprivation, selective sleep interruption and sleep recovery on pain tolerance thresholds in healthy subjects – Journal of Sleep Research, S H Onen, A Alloui, A Gross, A Eschallier, C Dubray.
2, Sleep Duration as a Risk Factor for Cardiovascular Disease: A Review of the Recent Literature – Current Cardiology Reviews, Michiaki Nagai, Satoshi Hoshide, and Kazuomi Kario.
3, Does sleeping too little or too much raise your risk of heart disease? – British Heart Foundation
4, How Sleep Affects Your Blood Sugar – WebMD
5, Sleep Duration and Diabetes Risk: Population Trends and Potential Mechanisms – Current Diabetes Reports, Michael A. Grandner, Azizi Seixas, Safal Shetty and Sundeep Shenoy.
6, A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men – Journal of Sleep Research, Sebastian M Schmid, Manfred Hallschmid, Kamila Jauch-Chara, Jan Born, Bernd Schultes.
7, Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold – Sleep: The Journal of Sleep and Sleep Disorders Research (Vol. 38 Iss. 9), Aric A Prather, Denise Janicki-Deverts, Martica H Hall & Sheldon Cohen.
8, Effect of sleep deprivation on response to immunization – The Journal of the American Medical Association, Karine Spiegel, John F Sheridan, Eve Van Cauter.
10, Sleep deficiency and motor vehicle crash risk in the general population: a prospective cohort study – BioMed Central, Daniel J. Gottlieb, Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen, Matt T. Bianchi & Charles A. Czeisler.
11, Inflammation – Cleveland Clinic
12, Sleep and inflammation: partners in sickness and in health – Nature Reviews Immunology, Michael R Irwin
13, Wake Deterioration and Sleep Restoration of Human Learning – Current Biology (vol. 21, no. 5), Mander, Bryce A, et al.