Consistently getting good sleep can change your life. If we could bottle the impact good sleep has on your health, happiness, and lifespan, it would be the best-selling supplement on the market. But while everyone knows just how great a good night’s rest can feel, the anxiety of the last few years coupled with the everyday stress of day-to-day life means that people are getting less sleep lately. Combating that trend can be tricky to wrap your head around. When we think about doing things that are good for our overall health, we’re prone to action. More exercise. More vitamins. A hardcore diet plan. Sleep is literally the opposite of all of that. But by learning how to do less and embrace a good snooze, we can vastly improve our waking hours.
Sleep can help with weight loss and improve body composition
If you’re trying to look better naked, spending hours on your pillow can contribute as much as spending hours at the gym. While there are still so many things we don’t understand about weight loss, we do know that sleep is a vital part of better body composition. According to Emily Capodilupodata and sleep scientist with Whoop, for your workouts to support aesthetic goals and muscle growth, you need good sleep.
“When we sleep we produce about ninety-five percent of the human growth hormone that we’re going to produce. If you do something like a strength workout, that workout breaks down your muscles. The rebuilding, the hypertrophy, that we’re trying to get out of that workout comes at night, she says. “When you’re not getting good sleep post workout, even if you’re working hard, you’re not going to see gains.”
Being tired also reduces impulse control and curbs our ability to get in meaningful exercise. That makes it that much easier to skip the gym or have a donut instead of an apple for breakfast. Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who are sleep-deprived are a third more likely to gain 33 pounds over the next 16 years than those who aren’t.
“If you’re staying up later and later you’re more likely to have another meal or snack, as opposed to going to bed at time when dinner normally carries you through,” Capodilupo points out. “On top of that, sleep deprivation releases our stress hormone cortisol, which puts us into a conserve calories physiological state, meaning we’ll end up storing more fat than muscle.”
Sleep helps immunity and digestion
A lack of sleep can mean that your body isn’t functioning at peak performance. Your immune system and digestion take a hit when we repeatedly keep them from the rest they need. For Dr. Nicole Avena, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, finding the sweet spot for sleep is crucial to making sure that you’re getting the proper energy out of your food and helping to fight off any potential sickness.
“Your immune system relies on your sleep to ‘catch up’ on fighting pathogens that we encounter in everyday life. Digestion also relies on sleep to keep your GI tract regular,” she says. “[Without proper sleep] we become sick more often or never recover from having a small illness like the common cold…indigestion becomes an occurrence almost daily, followed by bloating and discomfort. Our digestion needs sleep to properly absorb nutrients and store vitamins and minerals.”
Sleep helps you live longer
A Harvard team analyzed data from three separate studies and found sleeping five hours (or less) per night can increase mortality risk by up to 15 percent. Even modestly reduced sleep—we’re talking pretty normal stuff, six to seven hours a night—was associated with increased risk for coronary artery calcification, which can lead to heart attacks and heart disease. Evidence of links between sleep apnea and cardiovascular diseases like stroke, hypertension, and irregular heartbeat is also growing.
Sleep helps your mood and mental health
Anecdotally, sleep has also been one of the biggest factors for regulating the mental health of The Body Coach Joe Wicks. As a new dad, a lack of sleep left him irritable and depressed while trying to deal with the mounting pressures from his family and his growing business. While it was tempting to push harder and barrel through with caffeine, Wicks knew eventually this would just exasperate the problem. After making a nightly sleep routine and sticking to it, he noticed a huge difference in his mood.
“It’s one of the most important things in your mental health and your body composition. People think they’re heroes and hustling and going to sleep on four or five hours a night, but it’ll catch up with you. I needed to commit and discipline myself and really prioritize sleep. When I made that choice the emotional impacts were almost instant,” said Wicks. “It improved my relationships in everything I do. It’s a very small lifestyle change that has a huge impact.”
This is just one guy, but it’s an idea that is well-supported by studies. Sleep problems are a common occurrence in people with anxiety, depression, and ADHD. While it’s a chicken or egg scenario, actively trying to get more sleep if you’re lacking is going to improve those situations.