How Important is Sleep for Wellness?


lack of sleep emotionally compromises us; makes us slow and sluggish; and reduces our ability to think clearly.

With social media, we have access to a wealth of ideas, knowledge, and entertainment. We can find a good yoga or workout routine on YouTube and apply it at home or in the gym. We unwind after a long work day with movies, shows, and games.

Still, we hustle all day. So, when to fit all these exciting plans in? At night, when we need room lighting to see. But room lighting suppresses natural melatonin production, necessary for quality sleep. “Melatonin levels are remarkably sensitive to room light levels, with exposure before bedtime resulting in strong suppression of melatonin synthesis. As a result, exposure to room light into the late evening has the effect of shortening melatonin duration.” [1] This is one reason why we have a hard time falling asleep even when we get to bed.

Additionally, we study and relax using laptops, smartphones, and tablets, which emit blue light and boosts attention and reaction times. “Blue light exposure enhanced activity in the posterior thalamus including the pulvinar nucleus, implicated in the regulation of visual attention and alertness.” [2] Exposure to blue light from these devices, then, is like having coffee before bed. This, then, is another reason why we toss and turn at night.

Finally, all this downtime and scrolling cuts into normal amounts of sleep. In a survey of almost 450 00 adults, more than 30% of Americans did not get enough sleep. “A total of 65.2% of respondents reported a healthy sleep duration.” [3] How much sleep is enough? An expert panel in 2014 agreed that “for healthy individuals with normal sleep, the appropriate sleep duration [is]… 7 to 9 hours for young adults and adults.” [4] Below this 7-hour mark, health becomes compromised.

Even if you exercise, have the best morning routine, and eat green smoothies with all the superfoods, the compounding risks of consistently not getting enough “Zs” is just not worth the risk. We will focus in this article on how lack of sleep emotionally compromises us; makes us slow and sluggish; and reduces our ability to think clearly.

Lack of sleep leads to low mood and increased stress

Mood is most affected by lack of sleep. “Mood is more affected by sleep deprivation than either cognitive or motor performance.” [5] Specifically, “sleep loss is associated with adverse effects on mood and behavior. Adults with chronic sleep loss report excess mental distress, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and alcohol use.” [6] In many studies, “sleep-deprived participants reported significantly greater subjective stress, anger, and anxiety in response to the low-stressor condition.” [7] Finally, “poor sleep levels may also decrease one’s ability to deal effectively with stressors encountered on a day to day basis, and inadvertently induce unhealthy eating practices that can raise the chances of becoming obese.” [8] Talk about getting up on the wrong side of the bed.

Lack of sleep lessens your ability to lose weight.

Also alarming is that sleep deprivation increases our chances of gaining weight. “Sleep deprivation significantly decreases activity in appetitive evaluation regions within the human frontal cortex and insula cortex during food desirability choices, combined with a converse amplification of activity within the amygdala. Moreover, this bi-directional change in the profile of brain activity is further associated with a significant increase in the desire for weight-gain promoting high-calorie foods following sleep deprivation.” ” [9] This is why we get midnight cravings or want all the vending machine snacks at work after a night of less than optimal sleep. Specifically, brain activity involves the regulation of leptin and ghrelin hormones. Leptin makes us feel full, and ghrelin makes us hungry. These hormones get out of whack without proper sleep. “Altered levels of hormones central to appetite regulation, such as leptin and ghrelin, occur in sleep-deprived individuals and, consistent with this neuroendocrine dysregulation of hunger and appetite, a large number of epidemiological studies have identified short sleep duration as a putative novel risk factor for weight gain and obesity.” ” [10] Other studies confirm the importance of these hormones. “Laboratory studies have clearly shown that sleep deprivation can alter the glucose metabolism and hormones involved in regulating metabolism, that is, decreased leptin levels and increased ghrelin levels.” ” [11] This means it takes us longer to perceive that we’re full and increases hunger pangs throughout the day. Not the ideal situation if we’re trying to shed some weight.

Lack of sleep leads to brain fog and affects your memory.

Sleep is well known to help consolidate memories and aid in learning. “Learning clearly begins with the active participation of the subject at the time of training, the consolidation and integration associated with this skill learning must involve multiple steps that continue over at least 48 hours. These begin with attentive awareness during task training and continue with unconscious processing during sleep.” [12] It’s no surprise, then, that lack of sleep tends to have opposite effects. “Cognitive functions particularly affected by sleep loss include psychomotor and cognitive speed, vigilant and executive attention, working memory, and higher cognitive abilities.” [13] Even just one night of deprivation can lead to these issues. “Being deprived of sleep for one night impairs performance on many cognitive tasks.” [14] Additionally, “chronic restriction of sleep to 6 h or less per night produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to up to 2 nights of total sleep deprivation.” [15] If you’ve ever stayed up 72 hours straight before, you know how serious that is. Finally, long term lack of sleep is also partially shown to be associated with many age-related cognitive diseases. “A growing body of evidence strongly implicates the circadian system in the onset and expression of AD [Alzheimer’s Disease], PD [Parkinson’s Disease] and HD [Huntington’s Disease]. Disruptions to normal rhythmic processes are increasingly recognized as characteristic features of these disease states, and these disruptions may serve as early indicators of developing pathology.” [16] If we have upcoming finals, an important meeting, or a long road trip ahead, then, we should focus more on sleep then burning the midnight oil, daydreaming about vacation, or worrying what the people in the meeting will think of you and your presentation.

The consequences of affecting mood, weight, and thinking are only the tip of the iceberg to all the things that can go wrong when we don’t get enough sleep. Serious wellness issues become more likely the longer we’re sleep deprived. “Sleeping < 7 hours per night is associated with increased risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, frequent mental distress, and all-cause mortality.” [17] Besides these risks, “in cross-sectional and short-time longitudinal studies chronic insomnia has been associated with a poor quality of health, not only in obvious domains such as vitality and energy/motivation, but also in other mental, social, and physical activities such as work performance, cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, and relationship/family functioning.” [18]

In other words, sleep happens to be the most important aspect of wellness. If we want to be our best and healthiest selves, then, the evidence is clear: sleep well first. Even if it means making sacrifices to late night entertainment or research.

See the article 4 Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep to see some things I do to ensure I get enough sleep.

Do you agree? How do you ensure you get enough sleep each night? Let us know in the comments below.


[1] Gooley, Joshua J., Kyle Chamberlain, Kurt A. Smith, Sat Bir S. Khalsa, Shantha M. W. Rajaratnam, Eliza Van Reen, Jamie M. Zeitzer, Charles A. Czeisler, and Steven W. Lockley. "Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans." Endocrinology 152, no. 2 (2011): E463-472. doi:10.1210/endo.152.2.zee742. P. E470.

[2]Cajochen, Christian, Sarah L. Chellappa, and Christina Schmidt. "Circadian and Light Effects on Human Sleepiness–Alertness." Sleepiness and Human Impact Assessment, 2014, 9-22. doi:10.1007/978-88-470-5388-5_2. P. 17.

[3] Liu, Yong, Anne G. Wheaton, Daniel P. Chapman, Timothy J. Cunningham, Hua Lu, and Janet B. Croft. "Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration among Adults — United States, 2014." MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 65, no. 6 (2016): 137-41. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6506a1. P. 137.

[4] Hirshkowitz, Max, Kaitlyn Whiton, Steven M. Albert, Cathy Alessi, Oliviero Bruni, Lydia Doncarlos, Nancy Hazen, John Herman, Eliot S. Katz, Leila Kheirandish-Gozal, David N. Neubauer, Anne E. O’Donnell, Maurice Ohayon, John Peever, Robert Rawding, Ramesh C. Sachdeva, Belinda Setters, Michael V. Vitiello, J. Catesby Ware, and Paula J. Adams Hillard. "National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Time Duration Recommendations: Methodology and Results Summary." Sleep Health 1, no. 1 (2015): 40-43. doi:10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010. P. 40.

[5] Pilcher, June J., and Allen I. Huffcutt. "Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Performance: A Meta-Analysis." Sleep 19, no. 4 (1996): 318-26. doi:10.1093/sleep/19.4.318. P. 318.

[6] Colten, Harvey R., and Bruce M. Altevogt. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine, 2006.P. 63.

[7] Minkel, Jared D., Siobhan Banks, Oo Htaik, Marisa C. Moreta, Christopher W. Jones, Eleanor L. Mcglinchey, Norah S. Simpson, and David F. Dinges. "Sleep Deprivation and Stressors: Evidence for Elevated Negative Affect in Response to Mild Stressors When Sleep Deprived." Emotion 12, no. 5 (2012): 1015-020. doi:10.1037/a0026871. P. 1019.

[8] Marks, Ray, and Mirtha Landaira." Sleep, Disturbances of Sleep, Stress and Obesity: A Narrative Review." Journal of Obesity & Eating Disorders 1, no. 2 (2016). doi:10.21767/2471-8203.100006. P. 4.

[9] Greer, Stephanie M., Andrea N. Goldstein, and Matthew P. Walker. "The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Food Desire in the Human Brain." Nature Communications 4, no. 1 (2013). doi:10.1038/ncomms3259. P. 1.

[10]Cauter, Eve Van, Karine Spiegel, Esra Tasali, and Rachel Leproult. "Metabolic Consequences of Sleep and Sleep Loss." Sleep Medicine 9 (2008): S23-28. doi:10.1016/s1389-9457(08)70013-3 P. S26.

[11] Sharma, Sunil, and Mani Kavuru. "Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview." International Journal of Endocrinology 2010 (2010): 1-12. doi:10.1155/2010/270832. P. 7.

[12] Stickgold, Robert, Latanya James, and J. Allan Hobson. "Visual Discrimination Learning Requires Sleep after Training." Nature Neuroscience 3, no. 12 (2000): 1237-238. doi:10.1038/81756. P. 1238.

[13] Goel, Namni, Hengyi Rao, Jeffrey Durmer, and David Dinges. "Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation." Seminars in Neurology 29, no. 04 (2009): 320-39. doi:10.1055/s-0029-1237117. P. 320.

[14] Drummond, Sean P. A., Gregory G. Brown, J. Christian Gillin, John L. Stricker, Eric C. Wong, and Richard B. Buxton. "Altered Brain Response to Verbal Learning following Sleep Deprivation." Nature 403, no. 6770 (2000): 655-57. doi:10.1038/35001068. P. 655.

[15] Van Dongen, H.P. Maislin, G. Mullington, J.M. Dinges, D.F. (2003). The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: dose-response effects on neurobehavioural functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep, 26, 117-126. P. 117.

[16] Hood, Suzanne, and Shimon Amir. "Neurodegeneration and the Circadian Clock." Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 9 (2017). doi:10.3389/fnagi.2017.00170.P. 5.

[17] MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 65, no. 6 (2016): 137-41. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6506a1. P. 137.

[18] Magnavita, Nicola, and Sergio Garbarino. "Sleep, Health and Wellness at Work: A Scoping Review." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 14, no. 11 (2017): 1347-365. doi:10.3390/ijerph14111347. P. 1354.