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Have you ever wondered why you may fall into bed at the end of a long day? As an activity, sleep silently takes up about 33 years of the average life—that’s 26 years of actually sleeping plus seven years of tossing and turning in an attempt to sleep. You could graduate high school, college, and graduate school in that time, and still have some wiggle room to settle down, get married, and have a few kids. Why is sleep so important that it takes up over three decades of life? 

What Sleep Does For You

Sleep comes in stages, categorized as REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM. As the brain cycles through these stages, it also undergoes repairs, a tiny nighttime janitorial crew patching up parts of the body and mind. This “cleaning up” is key to waking up refreshed and aware. A lack of sleep can lead to reduced brain plasticity, a term for mental reflex and power. 

Sleep also allows us to retain memories and, upon waking, form new ones. That’s why teachers tell their students to study right before bed—sleeping immediately after studying aids retention. 

It’s not just the mind that benefits from sleep, but the body as well. Sleep is integral to the proper functioning and development of every part of our bodies, from hormones like leptin to blood pressure and cardiovascular wellbeing. Plus, important stages of tissue repair and muscle growth occur during the stages of sleep, making sleep the key to having a healthy body and mind.

What Happens If You Don’t Sleep

What can come about through a lack of sleep? A lack of sleep impairs reflexes and mood. Impaired judgment from exhaustion is similar to impaired judgment from alcohol consumption. The National Sleep Foundation reports that “being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (for reference, .08 is considered drunk).” 

Additionally, chronic issues can sprout due to insufficient sleep. Diabetes, obesity, and heart disease are just a few of the potentially severe risks of exhaustion, a list that also includes increased alcohol consumption, weakened immune systems, and a reduced life expectancy. A lack of sleep can even decrease the efficiency of vaccinations.

How Much You Should Sleep

As with most other health-related factors, the amount of sleep you need each night varies. Researchers agree that the average adult needs about 8 hours each night, with the number increasing as the subject gets younger. Babies, for instance, need double that, while young children and teens should be sleeping a few extra hours, 10 for the younger side and 9 for adolescents. 

Factors such as excess light, uncomfortable temperatures, and high caffeine intake can negatively impact one’s ability to sleep. The inability to sleep is known as insomnia, an issue that can quickly become chronic.

Insomnia should be treated right away for the sake of your emotional and physical well-being. So, don’t skip out on that extra hour if you can get it—sleep is about a lot more than feeling well-rested.