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We all know how life can get very busy.  Some days to prioritize we go without a basic need like eating, sleeping or exercising in order to finish our to-do list.  But is it really worth it?

Sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy body and mind. When we choose to skip sleep it can create both short and long term harmful effects. Read on to learn why it’s crucial that sleep becomes a top health priority.

1. Sleep Builds a Strong Immune System

While you sleep the body creates and releases cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation.  This is how the body fights off a bad cold or case of the flu.  So anytime you skimp on the shut-eye you may be shrinking your line of defense against viral invaders.

The best time span for a night’s sleep is 7-8 hours.  If that isn’t possible, taking a couple 20 minute power naps during the day can make up the difference. But only if you’ve had at least 6 hours the night before.

It should also be noted that more isn’t always better.  So as appealing as it may sound, skipping the chores for 10-12 hours of sleep won’t exactly make you bulletproof against the cold and flu.

2.  Sleep and a Healthy Digestion are Interconnected

Global studies have shown a link between inadequate sleep and the exasperation of gastrointestinal disorders like IBS, GERD, nocturnal acid reflux and constipation.  There is a vice versa relationship between the two systems. So, If you’re prone to digestive challenges, you’re likely to have trouble sleeping. And, if you have trouble sleeping, your digestion is likely to worsen.

  The best thing to do is to avoid a big meal close to bed time.  The GI system needs to time to rest.  If you’re feeling hungry, aim for a light snack like a piece of avocado toast or apple and almond butter.  Also avoid large amounts of sugar in the evening. If you love desserts have them after lunch.

Sleep position also matters for those that are prone to GI disturbances.  Sleeping on your left side can increase blood flow and aid in the emptying of the small intestine into the colon.  And avoid sleeping on your stomach as this can compress the digestive organs.

3.  Brain Detoxification and Support

During sleep, cellular waste is removed from the brain via cerebrospinal fluid and the lymphatic system.  This process of clearing out debris is always present however studies show it works twice as fast during sleep.  That’s why we feel so refreshed after a good night of rest.  From this process our brain gets the added benefits of memory formation and consolidation,  enhanced learning abilities, improvements to mood and libido and a regulated appetite.

4.  Athletic Recovery

During slow-wave sleep, or Non-REM sleep, brain activity slows so more blood is available to your muscles. This delivers extra amounts of oxygen and nutrients which facilitates muscular healing and growth.

This tissue repair will shorten recovery time for athletes allowing for more frequent training sessions.  More training can also lead to improvement in performance.

Better sleep may also reduce the risk of both injury and illness in athletes.  So whether you’re a weekend warrior or a pro, make 8 hours of sleep part of your training plan

5.  Mental Health

Patients that struggle with psychiatric disorders will more times than not have issues getting enough sleep.  The overlap of these conditions is so common many physicians believe they have the same biological roots.

Insomnia and Sleep Apnea have been linked to depression both as a cause and a symptom.  Insomnia has also been shown to worsen anxiety disorders and ADHD.

Conversely, a restful night’s sleep can be used to treat those with depression, anxiety, ADHD and Bipolar disorder.  This approach uses lifestyle changes to create better sleep hygiene. These include exercise, limiting caffeine and sugar, healthy nutrition and supplements, relaxation techniques, CBT therapy and avoiding electronics close to bed time.

Age Group

Newborn  (0-3 months)

Infants  (4-11 months)

Toddlers (1-2 years)

Preschoolers (3-5 yrs)

School Age (6-13 yrs)

Teens  (14-17 yrs)

Young Adults (18-25 yrs)

Adults (26 – 64 yrs)

Older Adults (65+ yrs)

Recommended Hours

14-17 hours

12-15 hours

11-14 hours

10-13 hours

9 – 11 hours

8 – 10 hours

7 – 9 hours

7 – 9 hours

7 – 8 hours

Acceptable Hours

11-13 or 18-19 hours

10-11 or 16-18 hours

9-10 or 15-16 hours

8-9 or 14 hours

7-8 or 12 hours

7 or 11 hours

6 or 10-11 hours

6 or 10 hours

5-6 or 9 hours

    1. “The Science of Sleep – How Sleep Affects Your Immunity.”  www.sleep The National Sleep Foundation.

    2. “Association between digestive symptoms and sleep disturbance: a cross-sectional community-based study.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

    3. “How Digestion Affects Your Sleep Quality.” Sleep Advisor, Jan 8 2020.

    4. “What Happens in the Brain during Sleep?” Scientific American, Sept. 8 2015.

    5. “Clearing Out the Junk – Healthy lifestyle choices boost brain waste removal.” Harvard University, Aug 21 2018.

    6. “The Importance of Sleep for Muscle Recovery.” Sports Lab NYC.

    7. “Sleep and Athletic Performance.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

    8. “Sleep and Mental Health.” Harvard University, March 18 2019.