It often feels like there isn’t nearly enough time to get everything done in a day, and many of us burn the midnight oil to grab a few extra waking hours. Sleeping fewer hours may seem like a life hack, but lack of sleep can hurt our mental and physical health in many ways.
Sleep is necessary for the human body to function. Although health experts aren’t exactly sure why we need rest, they theorize that sleep restores our bodies by allowing tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis. Sleep also rejuvenates our brains, improving cognitive function, memory, and learning by clearing out adenosine, a hormone by-product of our brains doing the heavy lifting day after day. During sleep, our body clears adenosine and helps us feel more alert after a good night’s sleep.1
When we don’t sleep well, sleep long enough, or sleep soundly, our bodies don’t enjoy the benefits of a whole night of restorative sleep. Over time, sleep deprivation can lead to muscle weakness, high blood pressure, and obesity. Lack of sleep also profoundly affects mood. Poor sleep increases feelings of stress, and stress can cause insomnia or difficulty falling or staying asleep. About 21% of adults say stress keeps them up at night, and nearly half say they feel more stress after a poor night’s sleep.2 And the cycle continues.
Other negative consequences of not getting enough restorative sleep include the following:
- Feeling sluggish or lazy
- Feeling irritable
- Having trouble concentrating
- Feeling no motivation to take care of responsibilities
Lack of sleep can exacerbate symptoms and increase the risk of mental distress or a mental health emergency for those with preexisting mental illnesses and may even cause depression. In a study of the link between sleep and mental health, participants who slept 6 hours or less were 2.5 times more likely to report frequent mental distress than those who slept more than 6 hours.3
Anxiety can be another roadblock to good sleep. Worry and fear, two contributing factors to anxiety, contribute to insomnia and even worry that an individual’s sleeping problems—known as anticipatory anxiety—can worsen insomnia. Poor sleep can also activate anxiety in high-risk individuals.4
Tips for a Good Night’s Rest
Research has shown that most Americans would be healthier and safer with even one extra hour of sleep each night.5 Here are a few ways to get the ZZZs their body needs.
- Avoid caffeine and heavy meals a few hours before bed
- Remove electronics from your bedroom, including TVs, laptops, and smartphones
- Use blackout curtains to block light from your bedroom
- Use white noise or a fan to help block outside sounds
- Keep your room cool—about 65 degrees
- Go to sleep at the same time every night
Adults should aim for between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night to feel alert and refreshed when they wake up.
Sleep and mental health are intricately related: mental health conditions disrupt sleep, and lack of sleep can worsen mental health conditions. Creating a prime place for rest is a wonderful tool. Still, in some cases, medication, health coaching, or therapy can significantly benefit those suffering from sleep disorders. To help find the tools for better rest, visit your member portal or browse Uprise Health resources for more information.