Healthy sleep habits do more than just keep you alert — they can also keep you healthier. Getting more shut-eye might even make you a better employee or student.
Healthy sleep habits have a pervasive effect and are crucial to health and well-being at any age. These healthy sleep habits generally allow you to wake up feeling refreshed; think quickly; successfully perform potentially dangerous tasks, like driving, which require complete attention; and do your very best at work or school.
“The importance of sleep is so multi-faceted,” says Lisa Shives, MD, a sleep specialist at Northshore Sleep Medicine, in Evanston, Ill., and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “It is essential to health of mind and body in so many ways.”
The Dangers of Ignoring Healthy Sleep Habits
Not practicing healthy sleep habits can lead to all kinds of health problems, says Dr. Shives. “Poor sleep leads to cardiovascular dysfunction, lowered immune system response, glucose and insulin abnormalities, dysregulation of hormones that control appetite, and impaired cognitive function.”
Sleep deprivation can cause everything from mental impairments to accidents. For example, a study of young adults who slept only four to six hours each night for two weeks showed serious signs of impaired alertness and mental function — often without even being aware of their weaknesses. As a result, researchers concluded that the average person needs about eight hours of healthy sleep a night to function properly.
Phyllis C. Zee, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says healthy sleep habits are critical to maintaining a healthy mind and body. And a lack of sleep can cause all sorts of physical and mental problems, from mood changes to overeating.
Specifically, researchers have found that not following healthy sleeping habits can cause:
- Loss of energy and feelings of exhaustion
- Anxiety, depression, or irritability
- Memory problems, trouble paying attention, delayed reactions, and a reduced ability to learn
- An impaired ability to think fast and avoid mistakes or accidents
- A limited ability to multitask
“Sleep deprivation, as seen in insomnia, or sleep fragmentation, as seen in obstructive sleep apnea, leads to a two- to threefold increase in high blood pressure, heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias, stroke, diabetes, dementia, weight gain and obesity, and depression,” says Shives. “Most research shows that treating the sleep disorders and improving sleep can lower the risk of all these associated conditions.”
Healthy Sleeping: Why It’s Critical for Kids
Children are especially vulnerable to sleep disruptions, says Shives. “It is important to recognize that children’s sleep disorders need to be taken more seriously because they seem especially vulnerable to many of the ill effects of chronic sleep deprivation, e.g., they can have serious neurocognitive and mood-behavior problems.”
If your child wakes up repeatedly during the night, has problems breathing while he sleeps, or his behavior and mood noticeably change, this might be a sign your child hasn’t developed healthy sleeping habits.
Don’t lose sleep over losing sleep! Take the extra time to follow healthy sleeping habits, and you’ll be more productive, healthier, alert, and functioning at your best.
By Clare Kittredge – Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD