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Why Our Bodies Need Sleep

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We intuitively know we need sleep. When you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you’ll likely feel dozy, you won’t quite be able to think as clearly as usual, and you might be moody and irritable. That’s because one of the key functions of sleep is to restore the brain.

Why the Brain Needs Sleep
“Sleep is something the brain needs,” Pelayo explains. Our brains run on electricity, which means the chemical energy the brain uses to function has waste products (called metabolites) that need to get cleaned out. That’s what happens during sleep, Pelayo says. The brain flushes out those waste products in the brain and replenishes the energy the brain uses throughout the day (called adenosine-triphosphate, or ATP). (3

You likely won’t be measuring the ATP levels of your brain on a daily basis, but they do affect our functioning in big ways. If you don’t get a good night’s sleep and those chemical process don’t happen, the next day you’ll likely notice:

It’s tougher to concentrate
It’s harder to remember things (4)
You’re moody and irritable (5)
Your judgment might be skewed (6)
You have less patience
You’re more likely to make rash decisions or have a tough time making decisions
You’re more emotional than usual
Your hand-eye coordination is a little bit off
There’s also emerging evidence that over time, chronically not getting enough sleep could be linked to the buildup of certain proteins in the brain that are linked to problems like Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological problems.

Of course, it’s not just our minds that need sleep. Other systems of the body don’t work quite right when they’re too tired, either. Immediately after getting a poor night’s sleep you might notice you’re hungrier and tend to crave and eat more (8), and people are also at higher risk of catching a cold or flu. (9) Researchers think that’s because sleep deprivation has been shown to mess with how our immune systems function. (10)

Over time, chronically not sleeping well has also been shown to be linked to higher risk of chronic problems, including: (11)

Type 2 diabetes
Heart disease and hypertension
Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders
Poor immune function
Earlier death

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