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Eight benefits of a good night’s sleep

Amy Gallagher
Senior Sleep Physiologist at Cromwell Hospital
27 October 2021

Getting a good night’s rest can see you springing out of bed ready to take on the day ahead. But a bad sleep can leave you feeling tired, down and struggling to concentrate. Just like regular exercise and a healthy diet, getting enough good sleep is an essential part of looking after your physical and mental health. Here I’ll take a look at some of the health benefits of sleep and explain why getting enough sleep is so important.

What are the benefits of sleep?

1. Improves your attention and concentration

It’s no surprise that getting a good night’s sleep can help to keep your energy levels up. But plenty of rest can also help to keep your mind from wandering, and maintain your attention throughout the day.

Not sleeping properly can mean that both your body and brain don’t function properly the next day. It could affect your attention span, concentration, strategic thinking, assessment of risk and your reaction times. This is really important if you have a big decision to make, are driving, or are operating heavy machinery, because sleep deprivation makes you more likely to make a mistake or have an accident. But getting plenty of sleep can help you to stay sharp and focused all day long.

2. Learn and make memories

Not only does sleep allow your body the time it needs to rest, repair and rebuild, but it does the same for your mind too. As you sleep, your brain begins to organise and process all the information you’ve taken on during the day. It converts your short-term memories into long-term memories. This helps you to learn and means that when you wake up, you can often see things more clearly.

3. Helps you maintain a healthy weight

Although more research is needed to fully understand how sleep affects your weight, some studies have shown that getting enough sleep can help you to maintain a healthy weight.

If you’re not sleeping properly, your body will need more energy because it’s awake for longer. But you’re more likely to overeat and choose foods that are high in calories later in the day. It’s also thought that being sleep-deprived could increase your appetite, because it changes the level of hormones that signal hunger and fullness in your body. Not only that, but if you’re feeling tired, it might also mean you have less energy to exercise. So getting enough sleep could help you to maintain a healthy weight.

4. Keep your heart healthy

A lack of sleep can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke. When you sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure naturally drop, to allow your heart time to rest and recover. But research has shown that if you’re not sleeping properly, your sympathetic nervous system remains stimulated at night. This is the system of your body responsible for the ‘fight-or-flight’ response – how your body reacts when it senses danger. This means your heart rate and blood pressure don’t go down at night if you’re awake, and your body releases stress hormones that keep you alert. And if your blood pressure remains up at night, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure during the day.

Not getting enough sleep can also lead to inflammation, causing fatty deposits to build up in your arteries, which can lead to coronary heart disease. Not only that, but poor sleep can disrupt your body’s ability to regulate your blood sugar. The levels of sugar in your blood can increase, which can cause diabetes. High blood pressure and diabetes are both major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

5. Keep your immune system strong

There are also benefits of sleep for your immune system. This is the system of your body responsible for fighting off germs and keeping bugs at bay. Sleep gives your body the time it needs to rest and repair while you’re sick. It supports the proteins and cells of your immune system to detect and destroy any foreign invaders your body might come into contact with, like the common cold. It also helps these cells to remember these invaders, so if you come across the same bugs and germs again, you’re prepared to fight them off. So it’s essential to allow yourself time to rest and recover when you’re not feeling well.

6. Looks after your emotional and mental wellbeing

Not only is sleep important when looking after your physical health, but there are psychological benefits of sleep too. If you have a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, you might find it much more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. But not getting enough sleep can also increase your risk of developing poor mental health.

For example, if you’ve got a lot on your mind, are feeling upset, anxious or worried – you might find you lie awake at night going over things in your head. But then not being able to sleep only adds to your list of worries the following day. You might begin to see a change in your mood and find you’re feeling low. The good news is improving your sleep can also help to improve your mental health and wellbeing.

7. Reduce your stress levels

There are lots of things that can cause you to feel stressed, and how you personally deal with stress will be different from someone else. But feeling stressed, for example from work, relationships, financial or health concerns, is often a key factor if you’re struggling to sleep at night. When you’re feeling stressed, your body releases ‘stress hormones’, for example cortisol, which can keep you awake. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep can have an ‘anti-stress’ effect and relax the systems in your body that are responsible for this stress response.

8. Maintain good relationships

It’s no secret that a bad night’s sleep can leave you feeling grumpy, while getting enough good sleep can help to put you in a positive headspace. And when you’re feeling good, it’s likely to be felt by the people around you.

The amount of sleep you get can affect your language, reasoning and communication skills – all key factors when building relationships with others. A bad night’s sleep can make it more difficult to control your emotions and communicate with others, and can sometime lead to conflict. But getting enough sleep can help you to regulate your emotions, interact well with others and maintain good interpersonal relationships.


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Amy Gallagher
Amy Gallagher
Senior Sleep Physiologist at Cromwell Hospital

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