The Connection Between Sleep and Overall Health

Adult woman, soundly sleeping in her comfortable bed, at home.

A good night’s sleep is vital to your physical health and mental well-being. Research has shown that a lack of sleep can contribute to many health problems, from high blood pressure to obesity.

Studies also show that sleeping well is just as important as exercise, diet and smoking in reducing your risk of heart disease and cancer.

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Stress can cause many different symptoms, from a headache or muscle tightness to hunger or low energy. It can also affect the heart, and blood pressure levels, and impact hormone production. Chronic stress can lead to depression, high blood pressure, autoimmune disease and even suicide.

For our ancestors, stress served an important purpose as it caused the “fight or flight” survival response that kept them alive in dangerous situations. The body has some pretty effective homeostatic mechanisms that help us deal with short-term stressors, but long-term stressful situations can have serious health consequences, including high blood pressure, weight gain, and heart disease.

Sleep is essential for our mental and physical health. Despite the popular belief that it’s a passive activity, sleep actually has powerful (and sometimes surprising) effects on our bodies and minds. Whether it’s the circadian rhythm, cellular repair, or production of immune system cells, researchers spend much of their waking hours trying to understand the mysteries of sleep and how it impacts our overall health.


The body’s physical health benefits of a good night’s sleep include promoting healthy weight control, lowering stress levels and the risk for chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, aiding immune system function, improving muscle strength and flexibility, boosting energy levels and enhancing athletic performance. But the brain also benefits from a good night’s rest, by enhancing memory and cognitive function, regulating emotions, increasing mental acuity and allowing us to stay alert when we are awake.

Research has shown that a lack of sleep can impair cognition and cause accidents on the road or at work. It can also affect the ability to feel pain and even increase one’s risk for depression. Scientists are now focusing on ways to improve sleep hygiene and the overall quality of life by helping people get more sleep, which may include reducing daily caloric intake, and increasing the amount of vigorous activity that is part of their weekly routine.


Getting adequate sleep each night allows your brain and body to recover. This enables you to be alert and make good decisions throughout the day, including when it comes to your diet. Getting enough sleep also helps you avoid excessive weight gain and serious diseases, including heart disease.

A lack of sleep boosts your stress levels, which can damage the immune system and make you more susceptible to illness. Studies have shown that well-rested people mount stronger antibody responses when receiving vaccines.

Many psychiatric disorders are linked to poor sleep. Insomnia is associated with depression, bipolar disorder and psychosis. Insomnia can also increase the risk of suicide. The link between insomnia and certain psychiatric disorders is also likely due to genetic factors. Researchers have found that genes that regulate circadian rhythms are related to specific psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder. Misalignments between a person’s internal clock and their sleeping patterns can cause chronic inflammation, which is tied to many health problems.


It’s no surprise that sleep is vital for our overall health, yet many people don’t get enough rest. Not only does lack of sleep make you feel lethargic, but it can also increase the risk of certain health problems like high blood pressure and depression.

Scientists are still trying to understand why we need sleep, but there are several theories that can help explain it. One is the inactivity theory, which suggests that sleep developed as a result of evolution to allow people to be less active at night and therefore avoid predators.

Another is the brain plasticity theory, which states that sleeping helps the brain develop and function properly. Researchers have found that getting enough sleep improves our memory and ability to learn, while not sleeping can make learning difficult. Whole-brain analysis shows that sleep duration/global quality correlates with cortical thickness in a number of areas, including the bilateral frontal cortex (p32 and Fp2), but not hippocampus or temporal lobes. The relationships are driven by additive genetic effects, suggesting a system-level impact of sleep on brain structure.

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