“Sleeping For All The Right Reasons”: How Sleep Affects Our Mental and Physical Health

Written By: Summer Slaughter

We’re almost one month into the New Year, and hopefully, everyone has been staying true to their New Year’s resolutions. Many people have different focuses like fitness, financial, or even spiritual goals that they’d like to accomplish during the year. One goal that everyone should have on their New Year’s resolutions list is practicing better sleeping habits. In 2016, the CDC found that more than one-third of Americans don’t get sufficient sleep at night. The threat of Sleep deprivation isn’t just limited to tiredness throughout the day. Not getting enough sleep can pose serious threats to your overall health as well. The National Institute of Health reports that “getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety”.

First, having an unregulated sleep cycle has been linked to the development of chronic diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. For instance,  a 2007 Harvard article states that “people who habitually sleep less than six hours per night are much more likely to have a higher than average BMI and that people who sleep eight hours have the lowest BMI”. During sleep, the body is usually regulating metabolism and balancing out hormone levels. Lack of sleep deprives the body of these processes. This can lead to higher insulin levels, which is a risk factor for diabetes.

Lack of sleep also contributes to reduced functionality throughout the day. “Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, and sleep deficiencies have been linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical or occupational error”. Lack of sleep severely impacts our reflexes and decision-making skills.  One study showed that “the reaction times of  people who were tired due to disrupted sleep performed about as poorly as subjects who were legally drunk.”

 Finally, from personal experience, I can say that one of the main reasons why some people, primarily students, tend to forgo sleep is because they’d like to study more. However, research has shown that lack of sleep can actually have detrimental effects on school performance. One study published in the Journal of Child Performance showed that the more time a student skimped on sleep in order to study, the worse he or she did on the assignment or test. A similar statement can be made about adults in the workplace. A Harvard article found that a “ lack of sleep can result in reduced efficiency, productivity, and cause an increased amount of errors and accidents”.

So what can you do to achieve better sleeping habits for the year? The CDC and National Sleep Foundation recommends that you set a routine. Adhering to a set time to sleep every night is a good way to start your journey to better sleep. Often times we feel the need to keep working, but having a cutoff time conditions us to make time for the betterment of ourselves. What if you can’t go to sleep at the same time every day? Apps like SleepyTime™ helps you choose a “wake-up” time, and gives you potential times that you could go to sleep and still be able to complete a healthy sleep cycle.

So this year, let’s make sleep our number 1 priority! After all, we would be sleeping for all the right reasons


Edited By: Casey Parker & Mirna Amaya

Summer Slaughter is currently a second-year Master of Public Health Candidate at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions concentrating in Social and Behavioral Sciences