All the Reasons Why Getting Enough Sleep Is Essential for Your Health

Simply put, sleep is non-negotiable for the health and wellbeing of every single person—and here’s why it’s so important.


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There’s nothing like a solid night of sleep to help you feel refreshed and rejuvenated. The only catch? Getting enough sleep can feel impossible these days, thanks to our ultra-busy schedules, increased use of electronic devices, and everything in between. In fact, one in three adults is sleeping less than they should, according to the Centers for Disease Control—even though logging adequate sleep is crucial for overall health and wellness.  

How Much Sleep Is Enough Sleep?

But how much sleep is “enough,” exactly? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the average person needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health. 

However, as with many other aspects of wellbeing, there’s no one-size-fits-all time range or definition of “enough sleep.” Every person needs a different amount of time to fully recharge their body, says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, integrative physician, sleep specialist, and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic.

That said, there are some scenarios in which you might need more than nine hours of shuteye. For example, if you’re recovering from an injury, sickness, or surgery, the extra sleep will do you good, according to Ryan Sultan, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and medical director of Integrative Psych NYC. The same goes if you’re recovering from sleep deprivation, as its effects can take a serious toll on the body (more on that below).

On the other end of the spectrum, some lucky people don’t need as much sleep, and it’s just in their DNA (literally). For example, recent research discovered that certain people inherit a rare gene mutation that actually makes them true “short sleepers,” or people who need less than six and a half hours of sleep each night—without the negative health effects of sleep deprivation. These folks seem to have been blessed with super sleep efficiency, which lets them get good quality sleep in far less time than others. 

If none of these scenarios applies to you, however, somewhere within the range of seven to nine hours of sleep is likely your sweet spot. We asked sleep experts and health professionals for tips on how to meet the mark, plus why sleep is so important.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

The body needs sleep to function, just like it requires food, water, and oxygen. “Sleep is a vital, but often underappreciated, facet of total body health and longevity,” explains Casey Kelley, MD, ABoIM, founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health. So much so that just one night of poor sleep can make it difficult to perform your usual daily activities.

It affects your mental health and mood.

A common consequence of inadequate sleep is experiencing negative moods the next day. Not only will you feel “hangry,” anxious, irritable, and stressed, but you’ll also have a hard time handling said emotions, according to Dr. Teitelbaum. In other words, when you’re running on empty, everything will feel so much more annoying.

It affects your cognitive abilities.

Insufficient sleep can also make it hard to focus, further adding to your cranky mood. According to Chitra Lal, MD, MBBS, FCCP, professor of medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina and vice chair of the Sleep Medicine Network at the American College of Chest Physicians, a single night of poor sleep can negatively impact your cognitive abilities, including attention and executive function—mental processes that allow you to regulate your behaviors, skills, and basically, get things done. This reduced alertness, coupled with general drowsiness, can then also increase the risk of accidents and injuries while working or driving, according to Dr. Sultan.

It affects your immune system. 

If the lack of sleep continues, it can hinder your immune system, increasing your risk of getting sick—or, if you do get sick, it can delay recovery, Dr. Kelley says. Persistent sleep loss can mess with your bone health and muscle strength, too.

Chronic sleep deprivation affects your body’s ability to fight disease and inflammation. 

In the long term, sleep deprivation can lead to more serious issues. That’s because prolonged sleep loss is associated with long-term inflammation, according to Dr. Kelley. “This chronic inflammation, though low-grade, can be detrimental to the body. Eventually, [the] inflammation will damage healthy cells and alter cell DNA, or cause tissue to die off,” she explains. Eventually, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of conditions like cancer, heart disease, dementia, and type 2 diabetes.

The Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep

Needless to say, the side effects of sleep deprivation can be an actual nightmare. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that getting enough sleep benefits mental, emotional, and physical aspects of health.

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Sleep prevents you from getting sick often.

“During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, which [protect] against inflammation or infection,” Dr. Kelley says. Sleep also allows your body to replenish its immune cells (i.e., cells that find and fight harmful germs). As you continue to snooze, these immune cells migrate toward the lymphoid organs, where pathogens (read: harmful germs) tend to collect, she adds. In contrast, lack of sleep can mess with this migration and prevent immune cells from destroying the pathogens, potentially increasing the risk of sickness.

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Sleep helps you think clearly, make decisions, and remember.

As you sleep, your brain replenishes its energy reserves and neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, according to Dr. Teitelbaum. “This is essential for focus and mental clarity,” he says. Plus, as Dr. Sultan notes, getting enough sleep is key for memory consolidation, or the brain’s process of organizing recent experiences and retaining new information and memories.

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Sleep promotes a better mood.

Of those neurotransmitters that are replenished during sleep, some affect your mood. One example is serotonin, also known as the “happy hormone,” as it’s associated with well-being and happiness, notes Dr. Teitelbaum. Sleep also supports the activity of the amygdala, a part of the brain involved in emotions. Without enough shuteye, the amygdala’s activity will become suppressed, leaving you feeling emotionally off-kilter.

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Sleep reduces the risk of accidents.

“Getting enough sleep helps improve decision-making abilities, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries,” Dr. Sultan says. This is especially important if you drive to work or regularly operate machinery on the job.

How to Get the Sleep You Need

If you have a packed schedule, care for others, or tend to indulge in late-night reading, the idea of consistently getting at least seven hours of Zzs might seem like a pipe dream. However, like drinking water and staying active, getting enough sleep is a vital part of any wellness routine. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do during the day, as well as before bedtime, to sleep better

Stay active.

Physical activity is a great place to start, especially when it’s done in the sun, says Dr. Teitelbaum. 

Get some natural light.

Getting daytime light exposure—particularly natural light in the morning, soon after waking—will help regulate your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, helping you feel sleepy come bedtime. 

Avoid afternoon caffeine.

It also helps to avoid caffeine after 4 p.m. (or earlier if you’re sensitive to caffeine) and alcohol four to six hours before bedtime, Dr. Lal says. 

Manage everyday stress.

And while it’s easier said than done, limiting unnecessary stressors during the day is key, notes Dr. Teitelbaum. Take a tip from Dr. Sultan and take short breaks every few hours, which can give you much-needed breathers from the day’s tasks.

Shut off screens about an hour before bed.

At night, avoid screen time for at least one hour before bed, as the blue light from electronic devices can disrupt the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, says Dr. Sultan. 

During that hour, consider practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, he adds. These activities can “reduce stress levels and promote feelings of relaxation, which can contribute to better sleep at night,” explains Dr. Sultan. While you’re at it, create a sleep-friendly environment by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool, says Dr. Kelley.

Still Can't Get the Sleep You Need?

If you’ve tried these sleep tips and still can’t get enough sleep, chat with your doctor, recommends Dr. Kelley. They can help determine if a sleep disorder or a medical condition that disrupts sleep is at play. If so, they can provide the appropriate treatment and get your sleep back on track.

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