You know you feel better after a good night’s sleep. So why is it one of the first things to go when your schedule gets busy? “Sleep is essential for our survival—but because we can sometimes make do with less, it’s not always taken seriously,” notes Neomi Shah, M.D., an associate professor of medicine in the division of Pulmonary Care and Sleep at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. That’s a mistake not only for your mood, but also for your overall health. Here’s why you should plan on hitting the pillow earlier tonight.
Photo: Jeff Harris
- You’ll think more clearly. We all know that groggy feeling that can come with waking up too early (or staying up too late). That can have implications in the office, classroom, or wherever else you need your brain to be at its best. “Research shows our ability to focus, cognitive function, and memory are all affected when we don’t sleep enough,” says Shah. Studies show sleep deprivation also affects long-term memory and decision-making, as well as attention levels.
- You’ll be less grouchy. Even a single sleepless night can make you feel irritable. And chronic sleep deprivation is associated with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. A study of 1,000 adults found that those with a history of insomnia were four times as likely to develop major depression within a three-year period.
- You’ll wear a smaller pants size. Numerous studies have found a link between too-little sleep and too-much weight gain. The large Nurses’ Health Study found women who slept 5 hours or less a night had a 15 percent higher risk of becoming obese compared to those who snoozed 7 hours a night. The sleep-deprived subjects also had a 30 percent higher risk of gaining 30 pounds or more over the 16-year period. Research shows a lack of sleep disrupts the hormones that control appetite and hunger, driving you to make unhealthier choices and to eat more throughout the day.
- You’ll take fewer sick days. You really are more susceptible to getting the sniffles when you don’t sleep well. A recent study from the University of Washington found twins with shorter sleep duration had a depressed immune system compared with their siblings.
- You’ll be a better driver. More than a third of drivers say they’ve fallen asleep at the wheel, according to the National Sleep Foundation, with more than 100,000 police-reported crashes resulting from driver fatigue each year. Other research shows that sleepiness can impair driving performance as much or more than alcohol.
- You’ll live longer. Too-little sleep is strongly linked to an increase in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems. One study of more than 3,000 adults over age 45 found those who slept less than six hours a night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as those who got six to eight hours of shuteye. Other data shows that sleeping five hours or less a night increased all-cause mortality risk by about 15 percent.