Sleep is healing. Think about how you feel after a good night's sleep. Your body is rejuvenated and brimming with energy. Your mind is clear and sharp. A night of restful sleep can instill a powerful sense of well-being, a sense of being primed and ready to meet the day.
"A night of restful sleep can instill a powerful sense of well-being"
What's behind these physically and mentally restorative powers of sleep? You might be surprised to learn the substantial health benefits that a good night of sleep can give you, and of the importance of sleep to your overall good health.
Sleep promotes cell repair
During sleep — particularly during phases of deep sleep — the body releases high concentrations of growth hormone. The human growth hormone has broad and powerful effects on both body and mind. Throughout the body, growth hormone spurs cell and tissue repair. By repairing cells and promoting new cell growth, this hormone helps to restore higher, more youthful levels of function to the body's organs and systems. Growth hormone also gives a boost to the body's immune system, helps protect against stroke and heart attack, and helps strengthen bones against osteoporosis. Growth hormone also can act like a natural cosmetic: it helps restore elasticity to the skin, it smoothes wrinkles, it strengthens hair and nails.
Sound like a wonder drug? It is. Growth hormone is the body's own natural anti-aging serum. But it comes with a catch. To experience the full effects of growth hormone's powerful protective benefits, you must sleep, and sleep well.
Sleep plays a role in cardiovascular and metabolic health
A substantial and growing body of research has found insufficient and poor-quality sleep linked to increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
How does sleep influence conditions such as high blood pressure, which affects one third of U.S. adults and can lead to other serious medical conditions such as heart attack and stroke? Sleep is a restorative period for the cardiovascular system, when heart rate and blood pressure lower naturally. What's more, sleep deprivation is linked to increased levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol. Elevated levels of stress hormones can lead to inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, increases risk of high blood pressure.
Sleep also provides highly restorative benefits to the mind, fueling memory, cognition, and learning. Sleep deprivation impairs concentration and focus, shortens attention span, and inhibits the brain from absorbing new information.
The ability to recall information from memory is also hindered in people who are sleep deprived. Research suggests that deep sleep — also known as slow-wave sleep — may play a particularly critical role in our ability to acquire new knowledge through learning, and also in preserving this new information as long-term memory. Decision-making also can be compromised by lack of sleep. When we're tired and fatigued, our judgment often suffers.
As we grow older, time spent in the stages of slow-wave sleep and REM sleep — both important to physical health and mental acuity — decreases. A strong sleep routine becomes even more critical to our physical and mental well being as we age.
Sleeping well is a powerful tool for health of both body and mind.
Consult your physician if you have trouble with sleep on a regular basis.