The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep

As toddlers we fight the impulse to sleep, but eventually in life we all come to value the importance of a good night’s sleep. We spend about one-third of our lives asleep. Did you ever wonder why this nightly occurrence is so crucial to our health and well-being?

Your body has a night-shift, during which it performs a variety of critical processes, including:

  • Healing damaged cells
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Balancing hormones that make you feel hungry, full and control blood sugar
  • Recharging the heart and cardiovascular system

A good night’s sleep is priceless. Waking up “bright-eyed and bushytailed” is a great feeling. On the flipside, that drowsy, heavy-eyed feeling after a poor night’s sleep is awful – and can be dangerous while driving or if it causes clumsiness that leads to injury. Even though we know all of this, our modern lifestyle often prevents us from enjoying the high-quality sleep we need to recharge each night.

The Sleep Cycle Explained

Our bodies cycle through two recurring sleep phases at night: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). Each phase is important for different bodily functions.

REM sleep is the more well-known of the two. It is the phase in which we experience dreaming, and typically occurs for about 20-25% of our total nightly sleep.  During REM sleep, our brains process and form emotions, memories, and deal with stress. REM sleep is associated with learning and developing new skills.

NREM is the workhorse of our sleep cycle, during which tissue growth and repair happens, hormones are balanced, and energy is restored. The body is refreshed for the coming day during NREM sleep, which represents about 75–80% of our sleep time each night.

When we snore, have difficulty breathing, have a new baby in the house, or are otherwise interrupted multiple times per night, REM and NREM sleep cycles are disrupted, causing us to miss out on vital body processing time. This has a negative impact on our health, not only in the short-term during the next day, but in the long run.

Symptoms of a Sleep Deficit

So what happens when you don’t get the proper amount of REM and NREM sleep? We’ve all been there. You feel drowsy or irritable, have trouble concentrating, and often crave more unhealthy foods than usual, which could contribute to weight gain. A poor night’s sleep happens to all of us occasionally. However, if a good night’s sleep eludes you for the long-term, the consequences could negatively impact your overall health.

According to the National Institutes of Health, ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. It can also contribute to obesity, because of hormone imbalances and a resulting urge to overeat.

Take charge of your health by implementing healthy sleep practices that enable the body’s natural restorative processes each night. If you adopt healthy practices and still can’t get a deep, restful sleep, it might be time to talk with your doctor about next steps.