The Importance of Sleep

Sleep Overview

A good night’s sleep is critical for good health and according to the CDC 1 in 3 American adults do not get enough sleep. A good night’s sleep empowers the body to recover and lets you wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day. How much sleep do we need?

Sleep requirements by age (provided by the Sleep Foundation):

Age RangeRecommended                Hours of Sleep
School-age6-13 years old9-11 hours
Teen14-17 years old8-10 hours
Young Adult 18-25 years old7-9 hours
Adult  26-64 years old7-9 hours
Older Adult  65 or more years old7-8 hours

Sleep deprivation is not just an adult issue, teens get the least amount of sleep, with 97% getting less than the recommended amount each night. For teens this impacts mood, school performance, social behavior, and many other issues. Check out our article on teens and sleep.

Unhealthy daytime habits and lifestyle choices can leave you tossing and turning at night and adversely affect your mood, brain and heart health, immune system, creativity, vitality, and weight. But by experimenting with the following tips, you can enjoy better sleep at night, boost your health, and improve how you think and feel during the day.

What can we do to improve sleep?

Good sleep habits (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s sleep. Following are some tips:

  • Be consistent- try to go to bed  and get up about the same time every day- even on weekends. Sleeping late on weekends will not “catch up” on missed sleep.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. However, avoid being active too close to bedtime.
  • Avoid bright screens within 1-2 hours of your bedtime. The blue light emitted by your phone, tablet, computer, or TV is especially disruptive.

For more tips check out our sleep articles discussing how to get a good night’s sleep.

Stress and Sleep

Does a lack of sleep cause increased stress or when we have a stress filled day do we have trouble sleeping? Unfortunately, both are true. High levels of stress impair sleep by prolonging how long it takes to fall asleep and fragmenting sleep. Sleep loss triggers our body’s stress response system, leading to an elevation in stress hormones, namely cortisol, which further disrupts sleep, according to Dr. Annise Wilson a Baylor College of Medicine sleep expert. Stress can interfere with your nighttime schedule and ways you can sleep more when life becomes busy.

Taking steps to manage your overall stress levels and learning how to curb the worry habit can make it easier to unwind at night. A good night’s sleep makes you able to tackle the day’s stress more easily. When you’re tired, you’re less patient and more easily agitated, which can increase stress. And relaxing before bed will help you sleep better.

Why sleep is important?

When the body doesn’t get enough sleep, the negative effects on health begin adding up. Daytime drowsiness, irritability and a decrease in work performance are some high-level indications that people need more sleep.

Sufficient sleep supports clearer cognition, increased energy, healthier mood and metabolism, and improved immunity–as well as optimal health and overall well-being. It keeps your heart strong, balances hormones, and keeps inflammation to a minimum.

Sleep helps the body redistribute energy resources that are primarily used for brain and muscle work to the immune system. During sleep, the immune cells get out of the circulation, settle in the lymph nodes, and start getting ready for the next day of work. If you lack sleep for a long time, the immune system will produce fewer substances helpful in defending your body. Furthermore, you can take longer to recover from an illness.

Sleep apnea is one of the most serious medical problems that robs people of restful sleep. It occurs when someone has overly shallow breathing (hypopnea) or stops breathing (apnea) during sleep. The number of times you suffer hypopnea or apnea a night determines the level of severity, from mild (5 – 15 episodes per night) to moderate (15 – 30 episodes per night) to severe (more than 30 episodes per night). If you feel you may suffer from sleep apnea, talk to your healthcare provider.

Focus on sleep

Sleep is an important part of our life; it should consume about one third of your daily schedule. We hope that you will find the information on this page helpful. People who want to learn their current quality of sleep can take the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. It asks you to rate your sleep in several categories on a scale of 0–3. If you get a score of seven or above, see a medical professional.

How do I know if I am Sleep Deprived?

Getting enough sleep every night is important. Sleep gives our body a chance to repair itself, so the lack of sleep can have harmful health effects. Sleep deprivation isn’t a sleep disorder. Instead, it’s something that sleep disorders and other medical conditions can cause.

Sleep deprivation happens when we can’t sleep well, resulting in us not being able to function at our best. There are basically two ways you can be deprived of sleep:

  • Lack of sleep. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep, the correct amount of sleep each night for an average is between seven and a half and nine hours. While this may seem a lot, you could find yourself feeling a lot more alert and energetic if you clock enough hours of sleep
  • Not getting enough good quality of sleep. Even if you spend enough hours in bed, the sleep you are getting may not be restful enough. This means you will wake up feeling as if you have only had three hours sleep even if you have had far more.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation

Insufficient sleep can directly affect how a person feels during their waking hours. Examples of these symptoms include:

  • Slowed thinking
  • Reduced attention span
  • Worsened memory
  • Poor or risky decision-making
  • Lack of energy
  • Mood changes6 including feelings of stress, anxiety, or irritability

A person’s symptoms can depend on the extent of their sleep deprivation and whether it is acute or chronic. You may feel that a busy schedule makes sleep deprivation as normal. Rather than take the necessary steps to sleep more, we drink caffeine or energy drinks, nap, or simply try to “power through.” None of these approaches is a sustainable solution to sleep deprivation. They may help get through the day, but the cumulative effects of sleep deficiency will still take a toll both in the short- and long-term.

Diet and sleep issues

Diet and nutrition can influence the quality of your sleep, and certain foods and drinks can make it easier or harder to get the sleep that you need. But when we eat can also impact how we sleep. It’s best to stop eating about three hours before going to bed. That allows plenty of time for your body to digest the last food you ate so it won’t disrupt your sleep, but leaves a small enough window before sleep that you won’t go to bed feeling hungry.

Food and drink that can disrupt your sleep- here are a few examples:

  • Caffeine in the afternoon
  • High-fat foods at night
  • Spicy foods at dinner or late at night
  • High-sugar foods at night
  • Too much chocolate near bedtime

As an evening option try making tea, such as a chamomile or sleepy-time tea that will trigger calm. The process of making and then sipping on herbal, non-caffeinated tea can send cues to your mind and body that it’s time to wind down.

What About Natural Sleep Aids?

The market has exploded from the introduction of over-the-counter supplements intended to help you fall asleep faster or stay asleep throughout the night. Many of these products gave fewer side effects and are not as addictive as pharmaceutical sleep products. Are they safe and do they provide sleep relief?

While evidence that supplements can help improve sleep is limited, cannabidiol, valerian, synthetic melatonin, and chamomile are generally regarded as safe, says Dr. Suzanne Bertisch, clinical director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so look for supplements that display a seal from U.S. Pharmacopeia,, or NSF International. And before starting any supplement routine talk to your doctor before you add one to your routine.

We hope that the information we provide here will help you get a good night’s sleep. This includes sleeping in a cool, dark and quiet room, getting up at a similar time each day (don’t sleep in on weekends) and avoid alcohol, caffeine and food at least 2 hours before bed.  And don’t forget daily physical activity, a healthy diet all tools that may also prove beneficial for good quality sleep.

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
The Good Body: Sleep statistics
Recovering From Sleep Debt
What Is Sleep Deprivation?
Supplementing your sleep