Why You Need Sleep to Live a Healthy Life

March is National Sleep Awareness Month-and to celebrate, we should all be getting a little, or a lot, more sleep. Sleep experts say we should get seven to nine hours each night, but as many as one third of Americans sleep for less than six hours regularly.

Insufficient sleep can lead to some serious health problems, making getting those seven to nine hours all the more critical. Let’s take a closer look at how getting enough sleep positively impacts your life.

You eat healthier and promote weight loss
According to a new study, sleeping for longer each night is a simple lifestyle change that could help us make healthier diet choices, like reducing the amount of sugar we eat, and maybe even lose weight. Dr. Wendy Hall, principal investigator from the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the United Kingdom, observed: “The fact that extending sleep led to a reduction in intake of free sugars, by which we mean the sugars that are added to foods by manufacturers or in cooking at home as well as sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juice, suggests that a simple change in lifestyle may really help people to consume healthier diets.” Study results also suggested that increasing sleep time by an hour or so longer may lead to healthier food choices. This further strengthens the link between short sleep and poorer quality diets that prior studies have suggested.

Your brain functions better
Good sleep enhances cognition, concentration, productivity, problem solving skills and memory. Sleep also helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. Sleep studies have shown that people who sleep after learning a task performed better on tests than those who didn’t sleep. Meanwhile, poor sleep has been shown to impair brain function. A study on medical interns revealed that interns on a work schedule that deprived them of a normal sleep routine made 36% more serious medical errors than interns on a schedule that allowed for more sleep. Another study found insufficient sleep can negatively impact some aspects of brain function-similar to if you were under the influence of alcohol.

You help prevent long-term health risks
A good night’s sleep helps build your body’s defenses against infection and chronic illnesses. Conversely, continued sleep deprivation raises the risk for a number of chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Researchers have found that people who sleep five or fewer hours per night have more calcium build-up in their heart artery walls and stiffer leg arteries than those who slept seven hours per night. Insufficient sleep can also leave you more vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

You’re a happier human
Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do-like exercise, socialize, and make healthy lifestyle choices. To live a heart-, brain-, and gut-healthy life, start by getting more sleep tonight. Your body will thank you for it.