A good night’s sleep might be all you need after a long, hectic, and challenging day, but have you ever wondered why sleeping feels so good?
A good night’s sleep has several health benefits. Other than being essential for the proper functioning of the brain, it makes us feel relaxed and calm. As we sleep, various hormones are released in our body – this affects our mood, helps us be more alert, and reduces stress, etc. Besides, getting the right amount of sleep also doubles as an excellent way of reducing the risks of various health issues.
Poor sleep, on the other hand, can be extremely detrimental with all sorts of negative effects on your overall health.
But, first things first; let’s define what a good night’s sleep actually is, and then go into more detail on why it feels so good and how to tackle certain sleep problems.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The time we need to spend sleeping largely varies depending on our age. While sleep deprivation can have its side effects, sleeping more than your body requires can also affect your attention span and make you feel groggy.
The National Sleep Foundation presented a report after two years of research. According to it, there are nine age-specific categories of sleep requirements with slight differences in sleep hours.
These are the following:
- 14-17 hours for newborns (0-3 months).
- 12 to 15 hours for infants (4-11 months).
- 11 to 14 hours for toddlers (1-2 years).
- 10 to 13 hours for preschool children (3 to 5 years).
- 9 to 11 hours for school-age children (7-13).
- 8 to 10 hours for teenagers (14-17 years).
- 7 to 9 for young adults (18 to 25 years).
- 7-9 hours for adults (26 to 64 years).
- 7 to 8 hours for older adults (65+ years).
While this list presents a decent rule of thumb, other environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors can also influence how much sleep you need.
The Difference Between Sleep and Rest
Most of us think that sleeping and resting are similar, and largely, they’re constituted of similar activities. For instance, we could rest with our eyes closed, however, sleep is specifically characterized by cycles of non-REM or deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
During sleep, various hormones are released in our bodies, which makes us feel relaxed. We can get the maximum benefits from sleep only if our environment is sleep-friendly and we are lying in a comfortable position.
Rest, on the other hand, can be power naps or even activities where we maintain full consciousness. Simply put, it’s defined as behavior aimed at increasing physical and mental well-being, and while it has positive effects on your body, it can’t be a substitute for sleep.
So, Why Does Sleep Feel Good?
A chemical hormone named melatonin is released at night by the pineal gland to control our sleep patterns. This naturally-occurring hormone has a calming effect, and that feeling is what we usually associate with quality sleep. However, it would seem that there’s much more as to why we have a positive impression of sleep.
A group of researchers at Stanford University found out that there’s a brain circuit associated with the internal reward system and sleep, and their conclusions are relatively counter-intuitive at a glance. Rather than just the presence of melatonin, the study presumes that the absence of dopamine also plays a role.
But, wait; isn’t dopamine the “feel-good” hormone? Well, it is, but that’s the one that also keeps us engaged rather than relaxing us. The study, done on mice, included inhibition of certain dopamine-secreting brain structures, upon which the animals immediately proceeded with “pre-sleep rituals” – nest building.
Conversely, the ones with increased function of dopamine-producing structures had no interest in resting and were even roused from a sound sleep.
For example, a common activity that could be correlated to dopamine release in humans are video games. Obviously, playing video games at night excites you and provides “rewards,” which throws your sleep-wake cycle off-balance.
In a nutshell, the direct reasons why sleep feels as good as it does are the occurrence of melatonin and the reduction of dopamine (or rather of external dopamine release triggers). There are, however, many other less direct influences that make sleep feel good (or less so).
Sleep Helps Stress Hormone Management
Stress hormones include cortisol and epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. When we’re feeling stressed, the level of these hormones is elevated, which gives rise to the stress response.
In the phenomenon known as the stress response, our heart rate increases, blood sugar levels rise, muscles become tense, and we sweat. These responses are there for a reason and provide us with a necessary boost in stressful situations such as competitions, exams, or job interviews.
The stress response and sleep share the same pathway, which is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Any disturbance in the functioning of the HPA axis can disrupt your sleep cycle. For instance, when your cortisol level is disturbed, it impacts your ability to sleep.
Healthy sleep can help to manage the level of stress hormones. On the other hand, chronic stress is very unhealthy and paves the way for further health issues.
Why Is Good Sleep Important?
Now that we’ve discerned how sleep affects the way we feel, or rather why it feels good, let’s take a look at the health benefits it brings. After all, feeling healthy is what makes us feel good most of the time, and better sleep will certainly help with that.
Sleep Improves Memory, Concentration, and Productivity
During sleep, your brain doesn’t shut off. Instead, it remains busy storing and processing the information of the day. All of this contributes to improving our memory. But, when you don’t get enough sleep, the brain’s working pattern gets disturbed.
A good night’s sleep is also linked with high cognitive function and improved concentration. Working late at night might make you feel like you are accomplishing more, but it is not healthy in the long run.
Sleep Boosts Our Immunity
Insufficient sleep also negatively impacts your immune system.
Cytokines proteins are released during sleep. Specific cytokines are required to cope with stress, inflammation, or infections. When you don’t get proper sleep, these protective cytokines are produced less.
Sleep Helps With Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight and being comfortable with the number on the scale certainly has an impact on the way we feel. So, sleep, yet again, indirectly plays an important role.
If you are trying to lose weight, then pay close attention to your sleeping habits. Although sleep doesn’t directly help get rid of extra pounds, poor sleep patterns can lead to weight gain and/or obesity.
Inconsistent sleep patterns result in high body mass index (BMI) which further increases the risk of coronary heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension.
This is largely due to the changes in two particular hunger hormones: leptin and ghrelin.
This hormone makes us feel sated and signalizes when it’s time to stop eating. Usually, leptin levels are elevated after having a meal. But, when we are sleep-deprived, the level of this hormone remains low. As a result, we may end up eating excessively. Makes you rethink that midnight snack, doesn’t it?
On the other hand, ghrelin is a hunger hormone, and it’s heightened when we feel hungry. When we don’t get enough proper sleep, ghrelin levels increase.
Ultimately, we eat more than our body needs in order to compensate for low leptin and high ghrelin levels.
Sleep Helps Control Blood Sugar Levels
Other than hormones, sleep also affects blood sugar levels, and sleep deprivation can affect insulin sensitivity.
When we are sleep-deprived, insulin sensitivity is increased. To make up for it, the cells of the body utilize more blood glucose. In a nutshell, there is clear evidence that poor sleep increases the risk of getting diabetes.
A consistent and healthy sleeping schedule not only lowers the risk of diabetes but also results in better glucose control and a better circadian rhythm.
Sleep Makes You Happier
Another interesting benefit of getting sufficient sleep is that your brain gets a chance to process emotions. Your brain needs this time to internalize your feelings.
What’s more, adequate sleep improves your social skills and ability to accurately recognize other people’s expressions.
In turn, lack of sleep increases the chances of mood disorders. For instance, people who have insomnia are prone to develop panic disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Simply put, there is a close association between sleep and mood, and quality sleep can result in increased overall happiness.
How to Sleep Better?
There are various factors that affect the quality of your sleep. These include illness, stress, a poor sleeping schedule, and the like. Although you can’t control all of these factors, some of our tips may just help you sleep better.
Have a Sleep-Friendly Bedroom
There is a strong correlation between your environment and sleep. Your environment should be relaxing, noise-free, and dark.
Blue-light-emitting electronic devices such as your TV or your phone can negatively affect your sleep quality.
Your room temperature is also something you should take note of; the ideal bedroom temperature would be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius).
Lastly, and obviously, no one can sleep in severe noise. While you can’t always directly change this, you ought to consider investing in double glazing or using earplugs if your immediate area is constantly noisy.
Another helpful tip is to have a pre-bed routine that will signal your body that it’s time to sleep. It could be anything like:
- Relaxation exercises like stretches, yoga, etc. However, avoid doing intense workouts at night as these will negatively affect the quality of your sleep.
- Guided meditation.
- A warm bath.
- Reading a book.
- Preparing yourself for the next day and organizing your thoughts on paper.
Regular Sleep Schedule
It is vital to have a fixed sleep schedule since it programs your internal body clock and brain. In this modern era of technology, you might find it hard to pay attention to your sleep. However, as you’ve read by now, it definitely has a vast impact on all areas of your life, so it’s essential to prioritize your sleep.
When you follow a particular sleep schedule, then you’ll have less difficulty falling asleep. Not to mention that a good night’s sleep will ultimately improve your alertness, attention span, memory, and your mental health in general.
You can keep a sleep diary for this purpose and track your sleep routine. This will help you to understand your sleep habits better.
Sleep plays a vital role in all aspects of our mental and physical health, and ultimately, it just feels good. Now that you know all the reasons why, you might be able to come up with some creative solutions of your own and improve the quality of your sleep. In conclusion, it’s not always how many hours of sleep you get at night that makes you feel good. We hope that our tips gave you enough ideas.