8 Surprising Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep

8 Surprising Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep

Research illustrates just how important sleep is – and its many surprising benefits, too!

By: Maressa Brown

Just like drinking enough water and eating our vegetables, we all know full well that getting the proper amount of Zs is essential for good health. Still, it’s easier said than done: According to the National Sleep Foundation, 20 percent of Americans report that they get less than six hours of sleep on average, while the number of Americans who report that they get eight hours or more has decreased. Ouch. It can obviously be tough for many of us to get enough sleep, but there are many surprising ways sleep improves our well-being that can serve as even more motivation to get a good night’s rest. Here, eight benefits of getting your snooze on.

1. Improved memory. Researchers like Robert Stickgold, director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, have found in various experiments that subjects who sleep more perform better at different types of memory tasks, such as a list of words or a typing sequence. What’s more, different sleep patterns affect different skills (like the amount of deep sleep you get early in the night improves verbal memory, whereas other tasks may correlate with the amount of REM sleep you get).

2. A longer life. Getting too little -- or, actually, even too much -- sleep can shorten your life. In a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine, women aged 50 to 79 fared best in the long haul if they got five to six and a half hours of sleep.

3. More willpower against junk food. Getting enough rest may help banish cravings for fattening foods like potato chips and sweets. Recent research from UC Berkeley found that depriving people of sleep for just one night impaired activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, which governs complex decision-making. At the same time, there was increased activity in deeper brain centers that responded to rewards. And as if that weren't enough, the participants simply favored these unhealthy foods when sleep deprived.

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4. Ability to maintain a healthy weight. While we know that lack of sleep can make it easier to give in to bad-for-you foods, it also alters the biology of fat cells, according to a recent, small study by University of Chicago researchers. They found that when subjects went from getting eight and a half hours of sleep to just four and a half hours for four nights, their fat cells were less sensitive to insulin, a metabolic change associated with both diabetes and obesity. Another study, published in the journal Sleep, found that getting less than seven hours of sleep a night was linked to higher BMI and to greater genetic influences on BMI, but getting more than nine hours seemed to suppress genetic influences on weight. So, researchers say that you can’t really sleep yourself thin, but you can potentially sleep enough to make diet and exercise more powerful than your DNA.


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5. Lower risk of illness. Not enough Zs is also associated with an uptick in production of the stress hormone cortisol and markers of inflammation, which take a toll on the immune system, making it harder to fight off illnesses. No wonder we’re more susceptible to catching a cold when we miss out on even a little sleep! What’s more, inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging.

6. Improved athletic performance. Researchers from Stanford University found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time, had more stamina, and were less fatigued during the day. But you don’t have to be an elite athlete to enjoy that payoff!

7. Emotional stability. Not getting enough sleep contributes to irritability and depression, whereas striking the right proportion (that is, getting enough sleep consistently through the week) can help balance your emotions.

8. Less pain. Whether you have chronic pain or you recently suffered an injury, getting enough sleep could help you cope. A study published in the journal Sleep found that one night of cutting sleep in half could significantly reduce your threshold for pain.

What benefits have you experienced from getting enough sleep?

Maressa Brown is a senior staff writer for The Stir. She loves writing about and reading up on health/fitness, relationships, and pop culture -- preferably on a beach somewhere.

Image ©iStock.com/skynesher

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