There are two facts about sleep we all know to be true: It’s great for us, and we’re obsessed with it. Whether we’re tracking it, bemoaning our lack of it or trying to optimise it, sleep is a modern-day fascination. But do we know what happens to our bodies when we get a great night’s sleep? Sleep is a basic human requirement, but the effects it has on us while we’re sleeping are anything but. We called on James Wilson, otherwise known as The Sleep Geek, to talk us through all the amazing things that happen while we’re off in the land of Nod.
Keep scrolling for the five benefits of getting a great night’s sleep.
1. Your Mood Will Improve
“A lot of my work is done within corporate environments,” Wilson tells Byrdie UK. “I know that people struggle with emotional resilience if they’ve not had enough sleep, and there are studies to back this up, so if your colleague is a bit mardy, they probably haven’t slept well. Sleep has a huge impact on mental health. People can start out with something low level and end up with a serious mental health issue if their sleep is affected. After a good night’s sleep, something stressful can happen and you handle it how you should, but if you’re tired, it may get the better of you.”
2. You Won't Be So Hungry
“Lack of sleep can affect hunger. Levels of the satiety hormone leptin decrease, while ghrelin, the hunger hormone, increase, which leads us to crave more calories and not feel full as quickly,” explains Wilson. In fact, one study likened a lack of sleep with the munchies. “If you are awake longer, you’ll burn about 70 calories in that time, but the impact the next day will mean you’ll probably crave about 300 calories more than you would after a good night’s sleep. It’s comparable with the munchies when you smoke weed. The cannabinoid hormones increase when we don’t sleep well,” says Wilson. Cannabinoids are influenced by cannabis (hence the name) but also a lack of sleep. They prevent insulin being pushed into your cells, which means you body thinks it hasn’t been fed and sends a signal to your brain that you need more food, hence the munchies.
3. Your Brain Will Get a Boost
“Sleep as a discipline is quite new compared to diet and fitness, but we do know that a lack of sleep impairs cognitive function and can increase the potential to suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia if you are predisposed,” explains Wilson.
“We know that the body has a lymphatic system that gets rid of toxins, and our brain has a similar system. About four to five hours into sleep, you have a sweep of calcium that washes away neurotoxins in the brain, but if sleep is impaired, then that process doesn’t happen as well or doesn’t happen at all.”
4. Your Skin Will Be Clearer and Calmer
“During the first part of sleep, the first two to three hours is when your body will repair itself, including your skin. We all know how rough we look if we don’t get enough sleep. While some experts say you shouldn’t drink water before bed, it’s worth knowing that we need water for the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), and it will also balance out any dehydration that occurs while you sleep.
“Poor sleep also increases stress hormones, and these can trigger inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, as well as skin breakouts, so a lack of sleep can make your complexion worse,” explains Wilson.
5. You Won't Get Ill as Often
“Sleep bolsters the immune system. When we go into corporate companies to help employees with sleep, we often see a marked drop-off on absenteeism around colds and flu, the things you tend to pick up when you are overly stressed and tired. Of course, it’s a circular relationship: A lack of immunity can lead to a lack of sleep, but a lack of sleep can lead to a lack of immunity.
“Stress can often be a trigger for sleep troubles, but the key is learning to accept that you won’t sleep well the night before a stressful event. Accepting that I was a bad sleeper helped me get better,” says Wilson.
“We can force ourselves to exercise and eat healthily, but we can’t force good sleep. You need to measure sleep on how you feel, rather than obsessing over getting eight hours. Think about sleep as a foundation that you build your health on; a good night’s sleep will ensure you eat better and have the energy to exercise. Also understanding whether you’re a morning lark or night owl will help take some of the stress away.”
Have trouble sleeping? Wilson recommends bamboo bedding, which is cheaper than silk and easier to care for. Not only is it kind to skin, but it also helps to regulate body temperature, which can be a problem for women, thanks to our cycles. “Three weeks out of four, women’s bodies are the wrong temperature for sleep,” says Wilson.
Next up, how to wake up fast (and not hit snooze) in the mornings.