Sleep plays a crucial role in your health. During sleep, your body recharges. Your brain synthesizes and stores information and memories, your hormones are regulated, your cells are repaired, and your internal systems are reset. If you want to feel your best, a good night’s sleep better be on the top of your list.
Aside from understanding the health benefits, knowing about sleep is just plain interesting! Although we spend about 1/3 of our life doing it, sleep is still widely misunderstood. Here are 10 of our favorite sleep facts.
- 33% of Americans Don’t Get Enough Sleep
According to the CDC, more than 1/3 of Americans report they don’t sleep enough during the night. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends at least 7 hours of sleep each night. But, for many of us, those 7 hours are ever elusive. Instead of sleeping well each night, many of us stay up too late working or scrolling through social media.
Constantly staying up too late, coupled with the stress and anxiety of life makes falling and staying asleep difficult. Without the proper amount of sleep, your body and brain don’t function as well as they could. Which means you’re more at risk for disease and mood disorders.
- Women Need More Sleep Than Men
According to some scientists, on average, women need about 20 more minutes of sleep each night than men. Pregnancy, motherhood, menopause, and general worry can keep women from sleeping as well as they could. Plus, women tend to multitask more than men, which means they use more brainpower during the day.
- Natural Daylight and Darkness Control When You Sleep
One of the most important hormones for sleep, melatonin, is activated by sunlight. The main receptor that tells our body to produce melatonin is in the eye. When the eye senses light, it turns off the gland that produces melatonin. On the other hand, when the eyes sense darkness, the gland produces melatonin, making you more relaxed, your body temperature cooler, and you more ready to sleep. Another common term for this system is circadian rhythm.
Light from computers and mobile devices can change the way our eyes sense light, tricking them to thinking it’s day when it's not and delays drowsiness. Spending time outside during the day can help regulate melatonin production, so there’s more of it at night and less during the day.
- New Parents Don’t Sleep Enough
Moms and dads around the world already know this, but now it’s backed by science. In the first two years of a child’s life, parents will lose about 6 months of sleep, putting themselves in huge sleep deficit.
A sleep deficit occurs when you don’t get enough sleep, so those hours of needed rest carry over to the next day. When enough of those hours rack up, it’s usually impossible to stay awake.
If you’re planning to have children, be prepared for some sleepless nights!
- 75% of Those with Depression Also Suffer from Lack of Sleep
The link between depression and sleep deprivation is complex. Scientists have found that when sleep is constantly disrupted, it changes the neurochemicals and pathways in the brain, altering how the brain works and you think. Those with insomnia are 10x more likely to have clinical depression. Sleep disorders also impact your mood. Even a few nights of poor sleep can have an effect on your happiness levels.
- Lack of Sleep Impacts Your Memory
Contrary to popular belief, your brain is highly active during sleep. That activity is much more important than giving you dreams. While you sleep, your brain organizes your memories, putting them in the right categories for learning and long-term remembrance.
Studies have found a lack of sleep can cause memory and learning issues. On the positive side, studies have also found a good night’s sleep can help improve test scores and decision-making. So, if you get the advice to “sleep on it,” take it.
- Believing You Slept Well Improves Performance
The mind is a powerful tool, so powerful in fact, that you can actually think yourself into a good performance. A recent study found students who were told they had above-average REM sleep performed better on a test than those who were told they had below-average REM sleep, no matter how much or little sleep students actually got.
These study findings show the mindset that you’re well rested can help you perform—at work, on the field, or wherever you need to do your best. Constantly complaining about how tired you are, well, just seems to make things worse.
- Regular Exercise Helps You Sleep
Exercise just makes you sleep better. Many studies have found regular physical activity both improves sleep quality and duration. It can also help reset your sleep-wake cycle, making your circadian rhythm more reliable so you can fall asleep faster and wake up more readily.
Exercise also plays a big role in relieving stress, regulating hormones, and improving overall health. When your mind and body are better regulated, sleep comes much more naturally.
- There’s A Connection Between Appetite and Sleep
Ghrelin and leptin are the two most important hormones in appetite regulation. Ghrelin stimulates your appetite and leptin decreases it. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body actually secretes more ghrelin and decreases leptin, making you feel hungry, even when you aren’t.
Moreover, when you don’t sleep enough, a lipid in your blood can cause you to crave foods high in fat, salt, and sugar. Sleep-deprived individuals tend to eat more than those who get a full 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Sleep-deprived people are also at risk for being overweight, which can lead to a whole host of other health issues.
- Night Owls May Have More Nightmares
People who stay up later may find they have more nightmares than those who go to bed earlier. Although these studies are new, the findings are fascinating. Nightmares, or dreams that make people feel scared, anxious, or threatened seem to occur with higher frequency in those people who classify themselves as “night owls.” Morning people, on the other hand, reported fewer nightmares.
One very plausible correlation? Stress. Those who stay up later generally lead more stressful lives. Stress can play a huge role in mood disorders, anxiety, and sleep issues. Some scientists also think there may be a connection between elevated cortisol levels—which can increase with stress— and nightmares.