Sleep affects your mental and physical health. Your mind and body are healthier when you sleep well.

Getting good sleep helps boost your mind and mood and can help prevent health problems. Due to changing hormones during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause, women are more likely than men to have insomnia and other sleep problems. Your body needs time every day to rest and heal. Some sleep disorders, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome, make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep. This can lead to daytime sleepiness and make it more difficult to stay in good mental health.

Having a sleep problem can also trigger a mental health condition or make current mental health conditions worse. Also, mental health conditions or treatments can sometimes cause sleep problems.

How does sleep affect memory, learning, and mood?

You can learn a task better if you are well rested. Also, you can better remember what you learned when you get a good night’s sleep after learning the task. It is also important to get enough rest the night before a mentally challenging task, rather than only sleeping for a short period or waiting to sleep until after the task is complete. Exactly what happens during sleep to improve our learning and memory isn’t known, however, experts suspect sleep forms or strengthens the pathways of brain cells needed to perform tasks. Several studies show that lack of sleep causes thinking processes to slow down, making it harder to pay attention and focus. Even if you don’t have a mentally or physically challenging day ahead of you, you should still get enough sleep to put yourself in a good mood. Most people report being irritable, if not downright unhappy, when they lack sleep. People who chronically suffer from a lack of sleep, either because they do not spend enough time in bed or because they have an untreated sleep disorder, are at greater risk of developing depression.

How does sleep affect hormones and weight?

Menstrual cycle hormones can affect how well women sleep. Progesterone is known to induce sleep and circulates in greater concentrations in the second half of the menstrual cycle. For this reason, women may sleep better during this phase of their menstrual cycle. On the other hand, many women report trouble sleeping the night before their menstrual flow starts. This sleep disruption may be related to the abrupt drop in progesterone levels that occurs just before menstruation. Women in their late forties and early fifties, however, report more difficulties sleeping (insomnia) than younger women. These difficulties may be linked to menopause, when they have lower concentrations of progesterone. Hot flashes in women of this age also may cause sleep disruption and difficulties.

A number of hormones released during sleep control the body’s use of energy. A distinct rise and fall of blood sugar levels during sleep appears to be linked to sleep stages. Not sleeping at the right time, not getting enough sleep overall, or not enough of each stage of sleep disrupts this pattern. One study found that women who slept less than 7 hours a night were more likely to develop diabetes over time than those who slept between 7 and 8 hours a night. Evidence is growing that sleep is a powerful regulator of appetite, energy use, and weight control. Although a lack of exercise and other factors contribute to diabetes and obesity, studies have found that the less people sleep the more likely they are to be overweight or obese and prefer eating foods that are higher in calories and carbohydrates.

What are some common sleep disorders?

Sources: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Sleep Apnea Association, Narcolepsy Network, Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, and National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, and the National Institutes of Health

Please remember this information is intended for educational purposes only and should not substitute medical advice from a healthcare provider.