The Benefits of Sleep


Sleep is a necessity. It is obviously vital to our health and well-being being that our bodies need drift off to sleep each day. Its impact on our daily lives is a big one so let’s check out what exactly sleep does for us…

LEARNINGWe have all been there… hard to focus on important information when we are running on very little sleep. But that initial absorption of information is only half of it. Well actually a third. Getting technical for a moment, learning is divided into three functions. Acquisition, consolidation, and recall. In other words, you start by getting the information, then you need to make a memory of it, and then you need to be able to access the information when it’s needed.

Acquisition and recall really only take place while you’re awake. Consolidation, on the other hand, “takes place during sleep through the strengthening of the neural connections that form our memories. The overall evidence suggests that adequate sleep each day is very important for learning and memory.” (1)

This means that even if you are able to focus on something to learn it and get the information without sleep, you won’t properly store the information in your brain which will cause you to ‘draw a blank’ when you need to recall it later.

Our kiddos are sponges! They instantly start learning and even those of you with school aged children, who dread to go to school, they are still absorbing so much information. The first 18- 20 years of their lives is mainly focused on learning. That being said, they need to be able to retain a considerable amount of information. All making the importance of a healthy sleep schedule a must!

MOODWe all know that when we don’t get enough sleep, we get short-tempered and irritable. A study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that subjects who experienced even partial sleep deprivation reported feelings of stress, anger, sadness, and mental exhaustion. (2)

This isn’t exactly new information. We’re all aware that we get emotional in very negative ways when we’re running on too little sleep, but why? Some researchers have suggested that sleep deprivation stimulates activity in the amygdala. That’s the little almond-shaped part of the brain that’s responsible for feelings of, anger and fear. These amped-up feelings can lead to an overall sense of stress and hostility towards others, which is probably at least part of the reason why you lost it at your friend when she asked you how your weekend was.

HEALTHAs you can begin to see, sleep is essential to our learning and emotional well-being. Now let’s talk about some benefits we can actually see. Along with breathing and eating, sleeping is just as high on the list when it comes to health benefits.

“Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” says Dr.Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at the National Institute of Health.

People who regularly get between 7-9 hours of sleep see significantly lower rates of obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, infections, depression, diabetes, inflammation, hypertension, heart disease, heart attacks, and heart failure. They also report higher satisfaction with their sex lives, better performance at work, and take fewer sick days than people who typically sleep less than 7 hours a night. (3)

So there’s no question that sleep is definitely as essential part of a healthy, happy lifestyle.Now let’s talk about life with a baby. Don’t you know when you have a baby you can kiss sleep goodbye!? At least I’m sure that’s what at least one person told you. Oh, and you can plan to not sleep not just the first year but maybe even for five or six years. This assumption is what the problem truly is. Yes your baby will wake up at night and as a parent you’ll wake up to tend to your little one but accepting this is the way it has to be and for that length of time!? No way.

Here’s the thing; your baby needs sleep even more than you do. Those little bodies may look like they’re idle when they sleep, but there’s an absolute frenzy of work going on behind the scenes. Growth hormones are being secreted to help baby gain weight and sprout up, cytokines are being produced to fight off infections and produce antibodies, all kinds of intricate systems are at work laying the foundation for your baby’s growth and development, and they’ll continue to do so through adolescence, provided they’re given the opportunity to do so.

All this work will happen, all that’s required of your little one is to close their eyes and sleep. I hear a LOT of people telling new parents that babies just don’t sleep well, and that they should expect their little ones to be waking them up seven or eight times a night.

So to those people, this just is NOT true. Your advice isn’t just wrong, it’s harmful. Telling people to accept their baby’s sleep issues as a part of the parenting experience is preventing them from addressing the problem, and that’s a serious concern for everybody in the family. Not because they’re selfish and enjoy sleeping late. It’s because they, and even more so, their kids, need adequate sleep for all of the reasons I’ve listed above.

Accepting inadequate sleep in infancy leads to accepting it in adolescence, and eventually you end up with grown adults who don’t give sleep the priority it requires, and all of those serious health issues follow along with it. So to every new mother out there, I beg you, don’t accept the idea of sleep as a luxury that you’re going to have to learn to live without for a few years. If your baby isn’t sleeping, address it. It’s not selfish, it’s not unrealistic, it’s necessary, and the benefits are prolific.

  1. Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, retrievedfrom, December 18,2007
  2. 1997 Apr;20(4):267-77. Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Dinges DF1, Pack F, Williams K, Gillen KA, Powell JW, Ott GE, Aptowicz C, PackAI.
  3. National Sleep Foundation, 2008 Sleep in America Poll, Summary of Findings retrieved fromorg/sites/default/files/2008%20POLL%20SOF.PDF

By Natalie Erickson