What is Sleep Health?

February 9, 2024 · John Gallagher

Understanding Sleep Health: How Your Rest Affects Your Well-Being

Sleep isn’t just a state of rest. It’s a fundamentally important ingredient in the recipe for better health: better physical health, better mental health, better overall well-being.

A good night’s sleep could literally mean the difference between health and illness. When you give your body a full night’s rest, you can improve everything from your mood to your memory retention. Just as easily, lack of sleep can increase your risk for hypertension, diabetes, depression, and stroke. This potential swing makes sleep health one of the most important priorities for sustaining health, no matter your age or medical background.

What is Sleep Health?

Sleep health isn’t a checklist; it’s a term that includes all the ways your sleep influences your physical and mental disposition. The term can include factors like your sleep duration, depth, and consistency.

Here are a few factors that play into your sleep health:

  • When you fall asleep
  • How long it takes you to fall asleep
  • How long you stay asleep
  • How many times you wake up during the night
  • How many times you enter deep sleep each night
  • How you feel after a night of sleep
  • Where you sleep

Sleep hygiene — the habit and behaviors that help you achieve good sleep — can also affect sleep health. Your behaviors during the day, particularly the food you eat and the lifestyle you live, have a profound effect once it’s time to rest.

How Do I Improve Sleep Health?

Good sleep health starts in the home. It’s important for everyone to create a relaxing sleep environment, a place where you’re comfortable falling asleep.

Here are a few ways you can improve your sleep health:

1. Preserve Your Sleep Environment

Your bedroom is the heart of your sleep environment. Begin by choosing wall colors that are comforting, more soothing than vibrant. Hang pictures, art, or other items that are comfortable and familiar. Make sure that your room has proper air flow to create healthy breathing patterns while you’re asleep. You can even use a white noise machine to further improve your sleep quality.

2. Avoid Pre-Sleep Screen Time

The blue light emitted by electronic devices can disrupt our natural sleep-wake cycle. To improve sleep quality, turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime. You can also designate your bedroom as a screen-free zone. If you must use your phone or another device in the evening, activate the "Night Mode" or "Blue Light Filter" feature. You can also use sleep-tracking apps for more insight into your sleep patterns.

3. Create a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Our body has an internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycles. This clock is called the circadian rhythm. When we go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, we align our circadian rhythm with the natural day-night cycle. This helps us get better quality sleep and improve our overall health.

A consistent sleep schedule also helps regulate our body's sleep-wake hormones, such as melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps us fall asleep. When we go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, our bodies produce more melatonin at the right time, making it easier to fall asleep.

A consistent sleep schedule can also help us combat sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop or become shallow during sleep. Both of these disorders can be made worse by irregular sleep patterns.

4. Limit Daytime Naps

Particularly if you’re feeling tired during the day, taking a nap can be tempting. And if it’s  a short, 20-30 minute nap, it can actually be helpful for a jolt of quick energy. However, there’s a downside to excessively long daytime naps.

When you nap beyond 30 minutes during the day, you risk entering sleep inertia — that groggy feeling you experience after waking up from a nap. This feeling can take time to shake off, which can disrupt your day and your mental fortitude. It can also make it difficult to fall asleep again in the evening.

5. Learn More about Your Sleep Patterns

Education is always helpful when seeking better sleep. For example, you might choose to use a sleep tracking app to learn more about your nighttime sleep patterns, heart rate, and other important health metrics. You can also participate in a sleep study for even more information about your sleep activities.

Many troubled sleepers also choose to write in a sleep journal. Here, you can record any observations about your sleep patterns, alongside any other observations about your routine or your day.

How Does Sleep Affect Physical Health?

Sleep supports your body’s physical health, from immunity and heart health to lung functionality, blood pressure, and digestion.

Here are a few of the most important ways that sleep can affect your physical health:

  • Cellular regeneration: While you sleep, your body releases collagen, a protein that strengthens skin and helps heal cells.
  • Weight management: Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain by increasing hunger hormones and decreasing satiety hormones. Ghrelin, a hunger hormone, is produced in greater amounts when you are sleep-deprived. Leptin, a satiety hormone, is produced in lower amounts when you are sleep-deprived.
  • Heart health: Getting enough sleep helps regulate blood pressure and reduce inflammation, which are both risk factors for heart disease.
  • Stress regulation: Sleep helps regulate the production of cortisol, a stress hormone. When sleep is inadequate, cortisol levels can become dysregulated, which can lead to health problems such as cardiovascular disease.
  • Immunity: Sleep is essential for a strong immune system. It helps to reduce inflammation, target infections, and produce immune cells. When you don't get enough sleep, your immune system becomes weaker, making it more difficult to fight off illness.
  • Balance hormones: In addition to regulating hunger hormones, sleep also helps to balance the levels of insulin, testosterone, and growth hormones, which are all important for energy metabolism and physical growth.
  • Muscle recovery: Sleep is essential for recovery after a strenuous workout or other form of physical activity. When you sleep, your body produces hormones that help to repair muscle tissues and restore energy levels. Without sufficient sleep, your body may not be able to recover as quickly, which can lead to muscle soreness, fatigue, and decreased performance.
  • Digestion: Sleep helps to regulate the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes, which are essential for breaking down food.
  • Chronic pain: Chronic pain can become more frequent and uncomfortable when you don't get enough sleep. Additionally, the pain can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

A good night’s rest can also help improve your fertility, skin health, metabolism, and coordination. In short, many of the processes you rely on each day, from walking to eating, in turn rely on the sleep you get each night.

How Does Sleep Affect Mental Health?

Sleep health also plays a large role in determining mental health, whether you’re experiencing symptoms of stress or challenges like depression.

Here’s how mental health can affect your sleep:

  • Sleep duration: Both too little and too much sleep can be problematic. Sleep deprivation, which is the lack of adequate sleep, can lead to irritability, mood swings, and decreased cognitive abilities. For best results, get a full 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Sleep quality: Sleep quality is just as important as sleep duration. When you don't get enough quality sleep, you may wake up feeling tired, groggy, and unrefreshed. Poor sleep quality can also lead to emotional problems, such as increased feelings of hopelessness and decreased life satisfaction.
  • Sleep regularity: Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, which means waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, helps regulate your body's internal clock. An erratic sleep pattern or frequently changing your bedtime routine can disturb your circadian rhythm, which can lead to sleep disorders.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can prioritize mental health — simply by prioritizing your sleep. In fact, there are a number of lifestyle factors you control that can improve your sleep and mental health.

Here are a few:

  • Lifestyle activities like exercise and social activity
  • Diet, including meal size, consistency, and nutrition
  • Environmental factors like your bedroom lighting, temperature, and background noise

Can Sleep Improve My Anxiety?

One mental health condition, anxiety, affects more than 30% of all adults. While sleep alone isn’t enough to address your anxiety, it can help you positively address symptoms and give your body the best chance for success.

Here are a few specific ways you can prioritize your sleep to address anxiety:

  • Follow a consistent sleep routine
  • Create a distraction-free sleep environment
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
  • Wind down at the end of the day

These tips are particularly helpful if you also experience sleep anxiety: fear or discomfort regarding sleep itself. You can address sleep anxiety using many of the same strategies, alongside a visit to a clinician or a sleep specialist you trust.

What Sleep Conditions Might Be Affecting My Health?

The occasional night of poor sleep is normal. Perhaps you were up late with friends, up early for work, or particularly anxious about something in your life. However, recurring poor sleep might be an indication that you’re up against a sleep disorder.

Maybe you’ve noticed that you need to take naps during the day. Perhaps you’re oversleeping in the morning or having trouble falling asleep at night. Here are a few of the sleep conditions you might be experiencing:

  • Insomnia: Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, anxiety, depression, and medical conditions.
  • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including obesity, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, and structural abnormalities of the throat.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): RLS is a sleep disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs. It can occur during the day or night, but it is most common at night.
  • Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden episodes of sleep. It is caused by a deficiency of a brain chemical called hypocretin.
  • Sleepwalking: Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder characterized by walking or performing other complex behaviors while asleep. It is most common in children, but it can also occur in adults.
  • Bruxism: Bruxism is a sleep disorder characterized by teeth grinding or clenching during sleep. It can cause pain in the teeth, jaw, and facial muscles.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a sleep disorder, it is important to see a doctor. There are a number of treatments available for sleep disorders, including medications, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

What’s the Easiest Way to Optimize My Sleep Health?

It’s a great question with an easy answer: elevate your sleep materials. Maybe that means trading your old pillows for pillows that actually cradle your neck. Maybe that means upgrading your sheets so that you look forward to sleep.

But for most people, that means finding a mattress they love for the sleep they deserve.

One in three people don’t get the sleep they need each night. One of the easiest ways to fix that is by improving your sleep materials, starting with your mattress.

Your mattress is one of the most important ingredients for a good night’s rest. It should help support your limbs, open up your circulatory system, and promote easy breathing until it’s time to wake. That’s exactly why we created our bedMATCH program.

Our bedMATCH sleep diagnostic system takes the guesswork out of a good night’s sleep. Visit your closest Mattress Warehouse and lay down on our patented bedMATCH mattresses, which analyze everything that makes your sleep situation unique. The system takes noiseless measurements on your height, weight, body type, and preferred sleep position, alongside thousands of other scientific measurements.

The result is a list of mattress options, no matter your preferred price, that best suit your sleep needs.

Visit your local Mattress Warehouse, or take the five-minute bedMATCH online quiz, to pursue the sleep health your body needs to thrive.