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By Amy Highland, SleepHelp.org

When building a healthy lifestyle, the importance of adequate sleep cannot be stressed enough. Both mind and body need rest to function at peak efficiency. Without it, your mental, emotional, and physical health suffer, potentially pushing you further away from your personal goals. When you sleep, you give your body the time it needs to cleanse, stabilize, and heal itself.

How Your Brain Reacts to Sleep Deprivation

While you are sleeping, the brain goes to work cleansing itself of waste, in the form of proteins, that build up between cells throughout the day. A study published in Science found that the brain cells of mice may actually shrink during this process to accommodate the volume of liquid flowing in and out of the brain, which appears to help clear out waste. The cells then seem to expand once the mice wake up.

These findings support a later study that showed sleep deprivation had a dampening effect on brain cell activity. The study was intended to learn more about treating epilepsy, but researchers discovered that the neurons in the brain send their signals at slower speeds when you’re tired. Waste build up and slow neuron signals often cause reduced decision-making skills, reaction times, and reasoning abilities.

Why Your Appetite Changes When You're Tired

Maintaining a healthy diet isn’t easy if you’re not getting enough sleep. During sleep deprivation, the body releases higher amounts of the hunger hormone ghrelin while releasing less of the satiety hormone leptin. The appetite changes continue as the body craves unhealthy foods when you’re tired. When you eat these foods, your brain gets more rewards than usual, causing you to crave them even more. Appetite changes are one of the reasons that prolonged sleep deprivation may lead to unwanted weight gain and diabetes.

How Healthy Immune System Requires Sleep

While you sleep, your immune system gets to work recharging itself and making antibodies. If you get less than seven hours of sleep, you’re 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold. Once you get sick, an immune system depressed by sleep deprivation takes longer to fight off infection.

Your immune system health can also be impacted by poor sleep quality. The immune system goes to work recharging itself and fighting infection while you’re in the deepest levels of sleep. If time is cut short or you experience wakefulness during the night, the immune system doesn’t get the time it needs to stay healthy.

How to Set Yourself Up for Success

Take a good look at what could be getting in the way of your sleep success. Lumps, valleys, or even tags on your mattress could cause wakefulness. If chronic pain is an issue, you may need a mattress that’s designed for your preferred sleep position. Today, you can research and purchase mattresses online and have them delivered to your door to make this process easier.

Other environmental factors like noise, light, and room temperature could also interfere with your sleep. Plush accessories and blackout curtains can help absorb sound while a motion activated nightlight can help keep light to a minimum during the night. Most people sleep more comfortably in a room kept between 60 to 68 degrees to allow the natural drop in body temperature at the onset of sleep.

By making sleep a priority, you give yourself the chance to get the rest that your mind and body need. With the right environment and consistent effort, a better night’s sleep is only a good night’s rest away.


Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy's a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

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