We all know sleep is good for our health — it replenishes our energy stores and keeps us chugging along throughout the day. But did you know sleep may also help us consolidate memories, solve problems, manage stress and more? Click through to learn some lesser-known benefits of sleep, and expand your nocturnal know-how.
It turns out our brains may be doing some vital housekeeping as we snooze. According to a study funded by the National institute of Neurological Disorders, during deep sleep, the brain rids itself of toxins accumulated during the day. The spaces between brain cells widen to make room for waste molecules to be flushed out. This cleansing function is apparently essential to our health and cannot be accomplished while we’re awake.
Source: National Institutes of Health
In addition to helping us stay focused throughout the day, a full night’s sleep may be a boon for our emotional health. Some research suggests that as we dream, we process through negative emotions (such as stress, anger or anxiety) experienced during the day. As our sleeping brains digest these emotions, we are able to move past them, setting the stage for a more positive outlook in the morning.
While adequate sleep puts us at ease, sleep loss contributes to a spike in the stress hormone cortisol, which is responsible for increased heart rate and blood pressure and could lead to hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
Far from being a state of dormancy, sleep may actually be a time when our brains are most active. Some scientists believe memories and information accumulated during the day are solidified and cataloged during deep sleep. Other research suggests that our brains may continue to “practice” new skills as we sleep, ultimately improving how well we perform on those tasks the next day.
The old adage that advises us to “sleep on” a difficult decision may offer more truth than we realized. Research has shown that as we sleep, our brains continue to grapple with problems from the day, drawing on stored memories in an attempt to reach a solution. If you’ve ever fallen asleep with a question on your mind and had the answer pop into your head the next morning, you may have a good night’s sleep to thank.
Research shows that men and women who regularly get less than six hours of sleep a night are nearly 30 percent more likely to become obese than those who get seven to eight hours.
One study performed at the University of Chicago concluded that well-rested dieters lost more fat, while sleep-deprived dieters lost more muscle. Dieters in the same study indicated that they felt hungrier after a night of less sleep, likely due to an increase in ghrelin, the hormone responsible for feelings of hunger.
Worse yet, the types of food our bodies crave when we’re tired are often high in fat and carbohydrates. Getting adequate sleep allows us to thwart those hard-to-shake late-afternoon cravings and provides us with the energy we need to follow through on an after-work exercise session. Getting regular exercise leads to better sleep quality, which in turn leads to more energy for exercise.