Sleep is one of the most essential parts of life, giving our bodies the chance to rest and recharge. The potential benefits of sleep – at least good sleep – are just as important. You feel refreshed after a great night’s sleep, and you’re ready to take on whatever challenges the day can throw at you.
For some people, getting enough sleep at night may be challenging. You may be dealing with a lot of stress during the day. Then, you lie awake at night thinking about how to pay the bills, whether you want to change jobs, if the kids are thriving in school, or some other critically important scenario.
Here’s some information on the importance of sleep, as well as what happens if you don’t get enough quality shuteye.
How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
In general, the human body typically needs between seven and nine hours of sleep. The younger you are, the more sleep you need. Teenagers, for instance, need anywhere from 8-10 hours, while young children – infants, toddlers, and preschoolers – need from 10 to as much as 16 hours. Adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night.1
But it’s not enough to simply stay in bed for the required amount of time. The quality of your sleep is just as important as the quantity. If you still feel tired even after getting the right amount of sleep, consider talking to your doctor.2
The Importance Of Getting Enough Sleep
No matter how old you are, getting enough sleep can have a major impact on your overall health – not just your physical health, but your mental and emotional health as well. The quality of your sleep has a lot to do with how you feel during your waking hours.
The benefits of sleep from a cognitive standpoint include better decision-making and improved learning capacity, creativity, and focus. If you don’t get enough quality sleep, you may have issues controlling your emotions, and you might be more likely to engage in risky behaviors. Children and teenagers tend to be more impulsive, lack motivation, and experience changes in mood if they’re not sleeping enough.3
Why Do We Sleep In The First Place?
That’s actually a really good question, one that sleep scientists haven’t been able to answer fully – even though they’ve been trying to do just that for decades. There are three common theories of why we need sleep.
- Inactivity theory – This is one of the oldest sleep theories. It basically states that sleep helps protect animals when they’re vulnerable. It allows them to stay quiet and still – and safe as a result. Other animals that stay active at night are at a higher risk of being killed by predators. But there is a counter-argument: if safety is so important, wouldn’t it be better to be alert and awake?
- Energy conservation theory – According to this line of thinking, the basic function of sleep is to help reduce the amount of energy we expend and need. Our ancestors slept during the night, when it was harder to find food. The body definitely slows down during sleep – our body temperature drops, as does our heart rate and our need for calories.
- Restorative theory – There is some evidence to support the theory that the body uses sleep to repair and rejuvenate itself. Critical body functions, such as tissue repair and muscle growth, often occur when we’re sleeping. In some cases, they only happen during sleep.4
How Does A Lack Of Sleep Affect The Body?
You know that when you don’t get enough sleep at night, you definitely feel the effects. The importance of sleep can’t be overstated. These are just a few of the potential issues often associated with sleep deprivation.
- Brain fog – There’s a chance you could have problems remembering things, or processing information correctly.
- Lack of alertness/daytime sleepiness – You might find yourself craving naps throughout the day to try and “make up” for lost sleep.5
The longer you go without getting good sleep, the worse it could be for your health. Adequate sleep helps support overall wellness.6
How To Get Better Sleep
If you’re having issues sleeping, there are a few things you can do to try and support better shuteye. First and foremost, talk to your doctor – but here are a few other tips you can try on your own.
Make Your Bedroom A Comfortable Place
Your bedroom might already be a cozy place, but there are some things you can do to make it even more comfortable to help promote good sleep.
- Use a high-quality mattress and pillow. They’ll help make it easier for you to relax, and they’ll also do a better job of supporting your spine. This could help reduce the chances you’ll wake up achy.
- Your bedding is also important. Blankets and sheets should be comfortable and should keep you from getting too cold or hot during the night.
- Light may also disrupt sleep. Consider using blackout curtains or sleeping with a mask over your eyes.7
Work On Your Sleep Patterns
It might help to change up your sleep schedule – but you’ll want to do it gradually. Try to make slight adjustments at first, and then get to where you’re sleeping about an extra hour or two each night. Taking it slowly will help your body adjust to your new pattern, and it might make it easier to stick with that new schedule.8
Other Steps To Support Sleep
If you’re suffering from a lack of sleep, adopting good sleep habits may help. Consider trying the following tips:
- Stay away from caffeine and chocolate – Any sort of stimulating drink, such as a soft drink or coffee, can really impact your quality of sleep. Avoid those, and even chocolate, at least a few hours before going to bed. For some people, caffeine and chocolate can take as long as eight hours to wear off.
- Don’t drink alcohol before bedtime – You might think having a nightcap would promote better sleep, but it actually keeps you from getting a deep sleep. When it wears off in the middle of the night, you might be more apt to waking up.
- Unwind – Consider listening to some soothing music or taking a hot bath right before getting in bed. This can help you feel drowsy, and make it easier for you to get the good sleep you need.9
Hopefully, you now know the answer to the question of, “Why do we need sleep?” And, if you’ve tried all the tips suggested above and you’re still struggling with sleep issues, it might be time to talk with your doctor.
Healthy And Relaxing Bedtime Rituals: Help Support Deeper Sleep
Tips For Preventing A “Stress Belly”
De-Stress And Relax Your Mind: How To De-Stress After Work