Immune health, mental health, metabolic function and more
By Austin Perlmutter, MD
Getting good sleep is among the most powerful things we can do for the health of our brains and bodies.
Better sleep may help protect against mood disorders.
Good sleep has been linked to improved memory and better immune balance.
Quality sleep may positively impact our metabolic health.
When it comes to wellness, better sleep is among the most cost-effective, enjoyable and helpful interventions for enhancing the health of our brains and bodies. Poor sleep is believed to be a risk factor for development of dementia, mood disorders and much more. But despite spending 1/3 of our lives asleep, we tend to ignore the tremendous value of this activity. Here are 4 powerful reasons why it’s worth making sleep a health priority starting tonight!
1. Getting the right amount of sleep is linked to better mood
One of the more impressive findings in sleep research is the connection between sleep quality and risk for mental health conditions. For example, in a 2020 meta-analysis of research on adolescents, less sleep was linked to increased risk for anger, depression, negative affect and anxiety. In adults, a landmark study from 1989 was among the first to point out that both short and long sleepers had higher rates of psychiatric disorders, and that people with insomnia were at high risk for developing depression. Importantly, sleep and mood are thought to have bidirectional influences, which means that mood issues may also influence sleep quality.
2. Good sleep supports memory formation
A number of experiments over the last decades have revealed that sleep plays a key role in creating new memories. Specifically, missing out on sleep may make it hard for us to convert new learnings into memory. Both skipping sleep before after learning something new have each been linked to trouble turning those learnings into memory.
3. Quality sleep promotes better immune balance
Across a range of experiments, researchers have shown that changes in sleep predict significant alterations in our immune cells and immune-related outcomes. For example, good sleep (versus sleep deprivation) is linked to lower risk for contracting certain infections as well as lower risk for experiencing worse infection-related outcomes. In some studies, sleep issues are linked to higher levels of inflammation, especially in people with the sleep disorder obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Given that unhealthy inflammation is linked to a wide variety of issues for our brains and bodies, this is important data!
3. Better sleep may = better metabolic health
Recent scientific work indicates that the majority of us experience less than optimal metabolic health. This signal is worthy of our attention, because poor metabolic health is linked to increased risk for a variety of negative health outcomes including heart disease, early death and brain diseases like Alzheimer’s dementia. Insufficient sleep may impact metabolic health in a number of ways. For example, it could increase the chances that we eat more food and unhealthy food, potentially through effects on hormones that influence our food preferences (like ghrelin and leptin). Sleep issues may also make it harder for our bodies to clear glucose from our bloodstream.
How to help improve your sleep tonight:
There are a wide variety of reasons why modern-day people experience poor or insufficient sleep, and the best interventions for better sleep will always be specific to a person’s unique life circumstances. With this said, most people may benefit from sticking to a regular sleep/wake schedule, reducing artificial light before bed (and getting natural light first thing in the morning), reducing caffeine consumption in the afternoon and sleeping with a cooler room temperature. For those still struggling or with significant sleep issues, evaluation by a qualified health practitioner is a worthwhile consideration.
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A version of this article I wrote was also published on Psychologytoday.com