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An overview of how and why sleep plays such an integral role in physical health
Danielle Pacheco, Staff Writer
Medically Reviewed by
Heather Wright, Pathologist
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The relationship between sleep and overall physical health is well-documented. Sleep allows both the body and brain to recover during the night. A good night’s rest ensures you’ll feel refreshed and alert when you wake up in the morning.
Sleep deficiency will not only leave you feeling tired, but can increase your risk for a wide range of diseases and health problems. These include obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. A lack of sleep also poses a threat to your physical safety. Studies suggest up to 19% of U.S. adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis
How Does Physical Activity Help You Sleep Better?
Sleep plays a vital role in your mental and physical wellbeing. Different processes that occur during sleep help to promote healthy brain activity and maintain good overall health. For children and teenagers, sleep is also key for proper growth and development.
Sleep deficiency can interfere with these bodily processes. The term “sleep deficiency” refers to the inability to get enough high-quality sleep. This may occur due to sleep deprivation, or simply not getting enough sleep, or there may be other underlying reasons, such as a sleep disorder or circadian rhythm misalignment. A lack of high-quality sleep means your body has less time to recover during the night. This can also lower your body’s defenses against diseases and medical conditions.
The effects of sleep deprivation on physical health include:
- Obesity: Studies have found sleep loss can increase your risk of becoming obese. Your body produces and regulates various hormones during sleep. These include ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry, and leptin, which makes you feel full. Lack of sleep can cause your ghrelin levels to increase and leptin levels to decrease, meaning you are more likely to feel excessively hungry and overeat.
- Heart Problems: Blood pressure is generally reduced during sleep. Thus, decreased sleep can lead to a higher daily average blood pressure, which in turn may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Inadequate sleep has also been linked to coronary artery calcification, a major predictor for coronary heart disease.
- Insulin management: Insulin is a natural bodily hormone that regulates your glucose (or blood sugar) level. Sleep deprivation can affect how your body reacts to insulin and cause your glucose level to rise, which in turn puts you at higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Similarly, reduced sleep or poor sleep quality may adversely affect glucose control in known diabetics.
- Immunohealth: During sleep, there is a peak in the number of certain T-cells, various cytokines, and other important components of your immune system. Not getting enough sleep can affect >how the immune system responds to viruses and other infections. Long-term reduction in sleep can also lead to persistent low-level inflammation throughout the body, which underlies many chronic medical conditions.
- Cognitive Performance: A good night’s sleep can improve your ability to concentrate, be creative, and learn new skills. People who don’t get enough rest often have a hard time paying attention and are more likely to commit errors at work or in school.
- Memory Consolidation: Sleep is essential for processing memories. During the third non-rapid eye movement stage of your sleep cycle – also known as slow-wave sleep – your brain begins organizing and consolidating memories. The rapid eye movement stage that follows may help to cement these memories. As a result, not getting enough sleep can affect your ability to remember important details.
- Mood: People who don’t get enough sleep may have a harder time controlling their emotions, making good decisions, and coping with different aspects of daily life. Sleep deficiency can also lead to mental health issues, such as depression and increase one’s risk of suicide.
- Growth and Development: For children and adolescents, deep sleep triggers the release of hormones that promote healthy growth, increase muscle mass, regulate puberty and fertility, and repair cells and tissues. Children who don’t receive enough sleep may feel angry or sad, struggle with school work, and have a hard time engaging with their peers in positive ways.
- Safety: Drowsy driving is a major road hazard for U.S. drivers. Sleep deficiency can reduce one’s reaction time and lead to falling asleep behind the wheel. People who don’t get enough sleep are also at higher risk of being involved in a workplace accident.
The amount of sleep you need changes with age. Newborns and infants require as much as 15 to 17 hours of sleep per night, whereas teenagers can usually get by with eight to ten hours. Adults between the ages of 18 and 64 generally need seven to nine hours. After reaching 65, this amount drops slightly to seven or eight hours.
The Importance of Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a catchall term for practices and behaviors that influence sleep quality and duration. It can include bedtime and wake-up routines, as well as your diet, physical activity, and other aspects of daily life.
Key components of good sleep hygiene include:
- Consistent Sleep Schedule: You should strive to go to bed and get up at the same times each day, including on the weekends and when you’re traveling. Many people find a consistent bedtime routine can help them get to bed on time.
- Prioritizing Sleep: Adequate sleep can be tough to juggle along with family life, work commitments, and socializing. However, you may need to occasionally forgo these activities in order to get enough rest.
- Responsible Napping: Napping during the day can greatly interfere with the amount of sleep you get at night. Limit your naps to the morning and early afternoon. You should also avoid napping for longer than 20 minutes, as this can make you feel groggy and unfocused when you wake up.
- Relaxing Bedroom Environment: Think of your bedroom as a sleep sanctuary. You should take measures to maintain a sleep-friendly bedroom, such as blocking light with thick curtains, using a white noise machine or earplugs to drown out loud noises, and setting your bedroom thermostat to 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius), which many experts agree is the ideal temperature for sleep.
- Healthy Habits: Moderate exercise and a healthy diet can improve your sleep quality and help you sleep longer at night. People who have a hard time getting enough sleep should avoid smoking altogether, and also refrain from drinking alcohol or consuming caffeine in the hours leading up to bed. Dining late in the evening – especially large meals – can negatively impact sleep as well.
If you experience long-term sleep deficiency, you should consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor or another credentialed medical professional. Physicians can provide valuable insights about sleep health and hygiene and, if needed, perform tests to evaluate for a sleep disorder.
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About Our Editorial Team
Danielle writes in-depth articles about sleep solutions and holds a psychology degree from the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Wright, M.D., is an Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist with a focus on hematopathology. She has a decade of experience in the study of disease.
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U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018, August 3). Sleep and Your Health. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from MedlinePlus.https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000871.htm
2.(Video) Sleep Better, Feel Better: How Sleep Affects Our Mental and Physical Health with Ellen Lee
National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. (n.d.). Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. Retrieved October 12, 2020, fromhttps://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency
King, C. R., Knutson, K. L., Rathouz, P. J., Sidney, S., Liu, K., & Lauderdale, D. S. (2009). Short sleep duration and incident coronary artery calcification. JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), 300(24), 2859–2866. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2008.867
Knutson, K. L., Ryden, A. M., & Mander, B. A. (2006). Role of Sleep Duration and Quality in the Risk and Severity of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. JAMA, 166(16), 1768–1774. Retrieved fromhttps://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.166.16.1768
Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Born, J. (2012). Sleep and immune function. Pflügers Archiv: European Journal of Physiology, 463(1), 121–137. Retrieved fromhttps://doi.org/10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013). About Sleep’s Role in Memory. American Physiological Society, 93(2), 681–766. Retrieved fromhttps://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00032.2012
National High Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.). Drowsy Driving. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drowsy-driving
8.(Video) How Sleep Affects Your Brain
Brooks, A., & Lack, L. (2006). A Brief Afternoon Nap Following Nocturnal Sleep Restriction: Which Nap Duration is Most Recuperative? Sleep, 29(6), 831–840. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/29.6.831
How is sleep connected to physical health? ›
“Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” says Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at NIH. “It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.” Research shows that lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, heart disease and infections.How does sleep correlate to both physical and mental health? ›
And there is now robust evidence similarly supporting that sleep is critical to not only our physical health but also our mental health. Poor or insufficient sleep has been found to increase negative emotional responses to stressors and to decrease positive emotions.What physical health problems are connected to sleep deprivation? ›
Sleep deficiency is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Sleep deficiency is also linked to a higher chance of injury in adults, teens, and children.How does physical activity affect sleep quality? ›
Research Shows Exercise Decreases Insomnia
Recent research indicates that exercise decreases sleep complaints and insomnia in patients. The effects of aerobic exercise on sleep appear to be similar to those of sleeping pills.
Sufficient sleep, especially REM sleep, facilitates the brain's processing of emotional information. During sleep, the brain works to evaluate and remember thoughts and memories, and it appears that a lack of sleep is especially harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content.Why is getting enough sleep important for students? ›
Students should get the proper amount of sleep at night to help stay focused, improve concentration, and improve academic performance. Children and adolescents who do not get enough sleep have a higher risk for many health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor mental health, and injuries.How does sleep affect social health? ›
Sleep loss also blunted activity in brain regions that normally encourage social engagement. “The less sleep you get, the less you want to socially interact. In turn, other people perceive you as more socially repulsive, further increasing the grave social-isolation impact of sleep loss,” Walker added.How does lack of sleep affect students mental health? ›
With every additional night of insufficient sleep, the risk of experiencing mental health symptoms increased on average by more than 20% – including an increased risk of 21% for depressed mood, 24% for hopelessness, 24% for anger, 25% for anxiety, 25% for desire to self-harm, 28% for functional problems, and 28% for ...Does lack of sleep affect mental health? ›
Sleep and mental health are closely connected. Sleep deprivation affects your psychological state and mental health. And those with mental health problems are more likely to have insomnia or other sleep disorders.How does lack of sleep affect physical and mental performance? ›
Studies also show that sleep deficiency changes activity in some parts of the brain. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency has also been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.
What dimension of health is getting enough rest and sleep? ›
Physical wellness is affected by physical activity, healthy nutrition, and adequate sleep.
Specifically, moderate-to-vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality for adults by reducing sleep onset – or the time it takes to fall asleep – and decrease the amount of time they lie awake in bed during the night.Does sleeping count as a physical activity? ›
Most people treasure sleep as a time of blessed inactivity. But research shows that sleep is very active state. We reposition our bodies throughout the night — which is both normal and helpful for maintaining good circulation.Why does exercise make you sleep better? ›
Syncs Your Body to Its Natural Circadian Rhythm
Exercising increases your core body temperature, signaling your body it's time to be awake. After about 30 to 90 minutes, your body temperature starts to drop, facilitating sleep. To further boost sleep, exercise outdoors to get some exposure to natural light.
Adequate sleep (AS: adequate sleep is defined as 6–8 hours per night regularly) is a critical factor in adolescent health and health-related behaviors.How much sleep is enough? ›
Experts recommend that adults sleep between 7 and 9 hours a night. Adults who sleep less than 7 hours a night may have more health issues than those who sleep 7 or more hours a night.Why is sleeping so important? ›
During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development. Getting inadequate sleep over time can raise your risk for chronic (long-term) health problems.Why sleep is important and tips? ›
Sleep is an essential function1 that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly.How do sleep problems affect thought memory and emotions? ›
That's right; lack of sleep can hinder you from thinking clearly and keeping your emotions at an even keel. Studies show that excessive sleepiness can hurt work performance, wreak havoc on relationships, and lead to mood problems like anger and depression.Can lack of sleep cause social anxiety? ›
Evidence also suggests that poor sleep may lead to greater social avoidance (Simon & Walker, 2018) and that there is a bidirectional relationship between sleep problems and anxiety more generally (Alvaro, Roberts, & Harris, 2013), suggesting that poor sleep may, in turn, worsen social avoidance and anxiety over time.
Does sleep affect confidence? ›
It found that those who had less than six hours of sleep had lowered optimism and self-esteem compared to those who got 7-8 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation is also linked to feelings of anger, frustration and sadness, feelings that make it rather difficult to boost self-confidence.How does sleep affect memory? ›
Memories seem to become more stable in the brain during the deep stages of sleep. After that, REM—the most active stage of sleep—seems to play a role in linking together related memories, sometimes in unexpected ways. That's why a full night of sleep may help with problem-solving.How does sleep affect anxiety? ›
Lack of sleep is known to affect mood and emotional health15, which may exacerbate the challenges posed by anxiety disorders. The bidirectional relationship means that anxiety and sleep deprivation can be self-reinforcing; worrying causes poor sleep, contributing to greater anxiety and further sleep difficulties.How does sleep clean the brain? ›
The waste management system (called the glymphatic system) is a series of tubes that carry fresh fluid into the brain, mix the fresh fluid with the waste-filled fluid that surrounds the brain cells, and then flush the mix out of the brain and into the blood. This occurs primarily during deep sleep.Why does lack of sleep affect the proper growth and development? ›
That's because growth hormone is normally released during sleep. If someone consistently gets too little sleep (known as "sleep deprivation"), growth hormone is suppressed. Lack of sleep also can affect other hormones. Studies show that sleep deprivation is linked to obesity and diabetes.What physical activity improves your ability to control and stabilize? ›
Balance exercises improve your ability to control and stabilize your body's position.What are the benefits of physical exercise? ›
Being physically active can improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.What is rest and sleep in physical education? ›
Rest is an act of not involving in any muscular or physical activities. it is also a relief from work in order to relax. Sleep is a form of rest in which a person lies down and closes the eyes. IMPORTANCE OF RESTING AND SLEEPING. It makes one to be physically fit.What body systems are used when sleeping? ›
- Cardiovascular System. In NREM sleep, your body's heart rate and blood pressure gradually slow down as you sleep. ...
- Immune System Activity. ...
- Appetite and Metabolic Regulation. ...
- Circadian Rhythms. ...
- Melatonin. ...
- Cortisol. ...
- Promotes Good Mood. ...
- Adenosine Breakdown.
In fact, people who exercise may need more sleep than their inactive counterparts — especially when they exercise at a high intensity. “Since the role of sleep is to restore the body's energy supply, it's intuitive that the more high-intensity [the exercise], the more sleep you require,” says Dr.
What affects quality of sleep? ›
External factors, such as what we eat and drink, the medications we take, and the environment in which we sleep can also greatly affect the quantity and quality of our sleep. In general, all of these factors tend to increase the number of awakenings and limit the depth of sleep.What is the best time to sleep? ›
Research suggests the ideal time to go to sleep is 10 p.m. But you should focus more on having a consistent schedule and routine when it comes to hitting the hay.How does sleep help recovery? ›
When you sleep, your body undergoes a series of changes that enable the rest that is vital to your overall health. Sleep allows the brain and body to slow down and engage in processes of recovery, promoting better physical and mental performance the next day and over the long-term.How does lack of sleep affect physical and mental performance? ›
Studies also show that sleep deficiency changes activity in some parts of the brain. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency has also been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.Why does a lack of sleep affect your body's performance? ›
Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can't perform its duties as well. You may also find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things. The signals your body sends may also be delayed, decreasing your coordination and increasing your risk for accidents.How does sleep affect social health? ›
Sleep loss also blunted activity in brain regions that normally encourage social engagement. “The less sleep you get, the less you want to socially interact. In turn, other people perceive you as more socially repulsive, further increasing the grave social-isolation impact of sleep loss,” Walker added.What a lack of sleep can do to your body and mind analysis? ›
Scientists measuring sleepiness have found that sleep deprivation leads to lower alertness and concentration. It's more difficult to focus and pay attention, so you're more easily confused. This hampers your ability to perform tasks that require logical reasoning or complex thought. Sleepiness also impairs judgment.Does sleep improve performance? ›
Sleep helps everyone to retain and consolidate memories. When athletes practice or learn new skills, sleep helps form memories, and contributes to improved performance in the future.Why does lack of sleep affect the proper growth and development? ›
That's because growth hormone is normally released during sleep. If someone consistently gets too little sleep (known as "sleep deprivation"), growth hormone is suppressed. Lack of sleep also can affect other hormones. Studies show that sleep deprivation is linked to obesity and diabetes.Why is sleep so important? ›
During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development. Getting inadequate sleep over time can raise your risk for chronic (long-term) health problems.
What happens to your body when you don't sleep? ›
You increase your risk of serious health issues.
A number of chronic health conditions may be affected by not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure, coronary heart disease and some cancers. You may also be more likely to have a stroke.
Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other. In fact, your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep. Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.What is the best time to sleep? ›
Research suggests the ideal time to go to sleep is 10 p.m. But you should focus more on having a consistent schedule and routine when it comes to hitting the hay.What is good sleep quality? ›
Generally, good sleep quality is defined by the following characteristics: You fall asleep soon after getting into bed, within 30 minutes or less. You typically sleep straight through the night, waking up no more than once per night. You're able to sleep the recommended amount of hours for your age group.Can lack of sleep cause social anxiety? ›
Evidence also suggests that poor sleep may lead to greater social avoidance (Simon & Walker, 2018) and that there is a bidirectional relationship between sleep problems and anxiety more generally (Alvaro, Roberts, & Harris, 2013), suggesting that poor sleep may, in turn, worsen social avoidance and anxiety over time.Does sleep affect confidence? ›
It found that those who had less than six hours of sleep had lowered optimism and self-esteem compared to those who got 7-8 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation is also linked to feelings of anger, frustration and sadness, feelings that make it rather difficult to boost self-confidence.