Sleep: The Ultimate Recovery Tool

When it comes to wellness, sleep is a non-negotiable cornerstone: too little not only harms our immediate quality of life, but also contributes to longer-term disease risk, weakened immunity, and even earlier mortality. [1]

Despite its importance, sleep tends to be viewed more as a luxury than a necessity. It’s often the first thing we sacrifice in order to meet the demands of a busy day, and sleep quality is rarely given as much attention as other major lifestyle components like diet and exercise.

Sleep can feel like a passive health tool compared to the seemingly more “active” behaviors of eating or physically moving. But the truth is, just like the adage “you can't out-exercise a bad diet,” you also can't out-eat or out-exercise poor sleep.

Putting effort into optimizing our sleep routine can have a profound effect on our health. In fact, getting high-quality sleep—and enough of it nightly—brings wide-ranging benefits for mental function, physical performance, injury recovery, body composition, hormonal health, and more!

woman sleeping in bed hugging soft white pillow

What happens when we sleep?

While it might seem like most of our bodies’ systems shut down during sleep, sleep is far from a passive activity: it’s actually a critical time for repair and rebuilding.

Every night, we cycle repeatedly through 4 different stages of sleep, all of which serve specific functions in helping us wake up feeling refreshed and restored. Those sleep stages are:

Deep sleep and REM are the most critical times for repair work. Specifically, during these stages, the body (especially the brain) carries out important functions such as:

In other words, sleep is a surprisingly action-packed time, as far as our bodies are concerned!

The consequences of poor sleep

We all know that feeling of waking up groggy, wishing we could hit the “snooze” button a few more times before dragging ourselves out of bed.

But the effects of inadequate or poor-quality sleep go much further than a rough morning and tired day. Lack of sleep results in a slew of hormonal, metabolic, and immune changes that negatively impact many areas of our lives.

Scientists are still studying all the ways that poor sleep affects human health, but so far, we know that even short-term sleep deprivation can cause the following problems:

Meanwhile, chronic sleep deprivation (less than 5 hours per night) brings additional damage over time, including an increased risk of many health conditions:

Unmanaged sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea, can also contribute to these health risks by interrupting our sleep cycles and reducing the amount of time we spend in deep sleep. [32] So, even if we’re physically in bed for a reasonable amount of time, the quality of the sleep we’re getting matters too!

How much sleep do we need?

The optimal amount of sleep varies from person to person, influenced by factors like age, health status, genetics, and more. However, the current consensus is that most adults require about 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to function their best. [33] Regularly sleeping less than 7 hours per night begins increasing the risk of adverse health outcomes, accidents, and performance impairment. [33]

Some circumstances can temporarily increase our sleep needs—such as being sick, recovering from sleep debt, or performing strenuous activity during the day. [33] In these situations, it’s normal to need more than 8 hours of sleep in order to feel fully rejuvenated.

As a general rule, if you wake up feeling well-rested and stay alert throughout the day, you’re probably getting the right amount of sleep. [34]

How do we improve our sleep?

Taking measures to improve the quality and quantity of our sleep is one of the most valuable things we can do for our health. But how do we go about doing so?

woman wearing a sleeping mask while lying on her bed

The answer lies in optimizing our sleep hygiene—a term referring to the behaviors and environment we create to support optimal sleep.

Good sleep hygiene means making choices that support our circadian rhythms (the body’s daily sleep-wake cycles) and our sleep drive (a biological urge similar to hunger, where the desire for sleep builds throughout the day).

During the daytime, there are a number of things we can do to improve our sleep hygiene. These include:

Meanwhile, our nighttime habits and environment also have a huge influence on our sleep. Consider trying these tips:

Rather than looking at this like yet another task to add to your endless to-do list, we can think about our sleep routine as a treat—a self-care practice that we get to create and enjoy every night.

Depending on our work schedules, childcare, or other responsibilities, we may have more or less time and control over our sleep hygiene. But there are always choices we can make that can either contribute to, or take away from, a good night's sleep.

Can you get too much sleep?

While insufficient sleep is regularly linked to a higher risk of chronic disease and mortality, excessive sleep (more than 8 or 9 hours per night) also shows some associations with health risks in observational studies. [42]

However, this doesn’t mean that allowing your body the rest it craves is a problem! Rather, so-called excessive sleep seems to be a marker for other existing health issues, including depression, undiagnosed sleep disturbances (like sleep apnea), immune problems, and illnesses that increase the body’s sleep needs. [43]

If you find yourself sleeping for unusually long periods each night, consult your physician to rule out any underlying health conditions.

The bottom line

In our modern culture that prizes working more and resting less, it can be hard to prioritize sleep over things like exercise.

But if you’re getting up early (against your body's natural inclination) or staying up late (while feeling “wired but tired”), you may be inadvertently sabotaging your health, as a lack of sleep can hinder the very things you're looking to improve through other health-promoting activities.

So, the verdict is in: prioritizing sleep can dramatically improve your health and life, especially when combined with other foundational health practices like eating a nutrient-dense diet and strength training. Are there any sleep hygiene tips we missed? Let us know!


  1. Yin J, Jin X, Shan Z, Li S, Huang H, Li P, Peng X, Peng Z, Yu K, Bao W, Yang W, Chen X, Liu L. Relationship of Sleep Duration With All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017 Sep 9;6(9):e005947. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.117.005947.
  2. Tononi G, Cirelli C. Sleep and the price of plasticity: from synaptic and cellular homeostasis to memory consolidation and integration. Neuron. 2014 Jan 8;81(1):12-34. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.12.025.
  3. Patel AK, Reddy V, Shumway KR, et al. Physiology, Sleep Stages. [Updated 2022 Sep 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:
  4. Elkhenany H, AlOkda A, El-Badawy A, El-Badri N. Tissue regeneration: Impact of sleep on stem cell regenerative capacity. Life Sci. 2018 Dec 1;214:51-61. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2018.10.057.
  5. Miller KE, Gehrman PR. REM Sleep: What Is It Good For? Curr Biol. 2019 Aug 19;29(16):R806-R807. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.06.074.
  6. Davidson JR, Moldofsky H, Lue FA. Growth hormone and cortisol secretion in relation to sleep and wakefulness. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 1991 Jul;16(2):96-102.
  7. Van Cauter E, Copinschi G. Interrelationships between growth hormone and sleep. Growth Horm IGF Res. 2000 Apr;10 Suppl B:S57-62. doi: 10.1016/s1096-6374(00)80011-8.
  8. Dattilo M, Antunes HK, Medeiros A, Mônico Neto M, Souza HS, Tufik S, de Mello MT. Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 2011 Aug;77(2):220-2. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2011.04.017.
  9. Lamon S, Morabito A, Arentson-Lantz E, Knowles O, Vincent GE, Condo D, Alexander SE, Garnham A, Paddon-Jones D, Aisbett B. The effect of acute sleep deprivation on skeletal muscle protein synthesis and the hormonal environment. Physiol Rep. 2021 Jan;9(1):e14660. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14660.
  10. Papatriantafyllou E, Efthymiou D, Zoumbaneas E, Popescu CA, Vassilopoulou E. Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Nutrients. 2022 Apr 8;14(8):1549. doi: 10.3390/nu14081549.
  11. Schmid SM, Hallschmid M, Jauch-Chara K, Born J, Schultes B. A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men. J Sleep Res. 2008 Sep;17(3):331-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00662.x.
  12. Short MA, Louca M. Sleep deprivation leads to mood deficits in healthy adolescents. Sleep Med. 2015 Aug;16(8):987-93. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2015.03.007.
  13. Saghir Z, Syeda JN, Muhammad AS, Balla Abdalla TH. The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection? Cureus. 2018 Jul 2;10(7):e2912. doi: 10.7759/cureus.2912.
  14. van der Helm E, Yao J, Dutt S, Rao V, Saletin JM, Walker MP. REM sleep depotentiates amygdala activity to previous emotional experiences. Curr Biol. 2011 Dec 6;21(23):2029-32. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.10.052.
  15. Wassing R, Lakbila-Kamal O, Ramautar JR, Stoffers D, Schalkwijk F, Van Someren EJW. Restless REM Sleep Impedes Overnight Amygdala Adaptation. Curr Biol. 2019 Jul 22;29(14):2351-2358.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.06.034.
  16. Lo JC, Ong JL, Leong RL, Gooley JJ, Chee MW. Cognitive Performance, Sleepiness, and Mood in Partially Sleep Deprived Adolescents: The Need for Sleep Study. Sleep. 2016 Mar 1;39(3):687-98. doi: 10.5665/sleep.5552.
  17. Ibarra-Coronado EG, Pantaleón-Martínez AM, Velazquéz-Moctezuma J, Prospéro-García O, Méndez-Díaz M, Pérez-Tapia M, Pavón L, Morales-Montor J. The Bidirectional Relationship between Sleep and Immunity against Infections. J Immunol Res. 2015;2015:678164. doi: 10.1155/2015/678164.
  18. Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiol Rev. 2019 Jul 1;99(3):1325-1380. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00010.2018.
  19. Lee DY, Jung I, Park SY, Yu JH, Seo JA, Kim KJ, Kim NH, Yoo HJ, Kim SG, Choi KM, Baik SH, Lee SK, Shin C, Kim NH. Sleep Duration and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Community-Based Cohort Study with a 16-Year Follow-up. Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2023 Feb;38(1):146-155. doi: 10.3803/EnM.2022.1582.
  20. Covassin N, Singh P. Sleep Duration and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Epidemiologic and Experimental Evidence. Sleep Med Clin. 2016 Mar;11(1):81-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jsmc.2015.10.007.
  21. Mc Carthy CE, Yusuf S, Judge C, Alvarez-Iglesias A, Hankey GJ, Oveisgharan S, Damasceno A, Iversen HK, Rosengren A, Avezum A, Lopez-Jaramillo P, Xavier D, Wang X, Rangarajan S, O'Donnell M; for INTERSTROKE. Sleep Patterns and the Risk of Acute Stroke: Results From the INTERSTROKE International Case-Control Study. Neurology. 2023 May 23;100(21):e2191-e2203. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000207249.
  22. Li C, Shang S. Relationship between Sleep and Hypertension: Findings from the NHANES (2007-2014). Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 25;18(15):7867. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18157867.
  23. Li L, Wu C, Gan Y, Qu X, Lu Z. Insomnia and the risk of depression: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMC Psychiatry. 2016 Nov 5;16(1):375. doi: 10.1186/s12888-016-1075-3.
  24. Song C, Zhang R, Wang C, Fu R, Song W, Dou K, Wang S. Sleep quality and risk of cancer: findings from the English longitudinal study of aging. Sleep. 2021 Mar 12;44(3):zsaa192. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsaa192.
  25. Mogavero MP, DelRosso LM, Fanfulla F, Bruni O, Ferri R. Sleep disorders and cancer: State of the art and future perspectives. Sleep Med Rev. 2021 Apr;56:101409. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2020.101409.
  26. Bo Y, Yeoh EK, Guo C, Zhang Z, Tam T, Chan TC, Chang LY, Lao XQ. Sleep and the Risk of Chronic Kidney Disease: A Cohort Study. J Clin Sleep Med. 2019 Mar 15;15(3):393-400. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.7660.
  27. Shi L, Chen SJ, Ma MY, Bao YP, Han Y, Wang YM, Shi J, Vitiello MV, Lu L. Sleep disturbances increase the risk of dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med Rev. 2018 Aug;40:4-16. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2017.06.010.
  28. Hsiao YH, Chen YT, Tseng CM, Wu LA, Lin WC, Su VY, Perng DW, Chang SC, Chen YM, Chen TJ, Lee YC, Chou KT. Sleep disorders and increased risk of autoimmune diseases in individuals without sleep apnea. Sleep. 2015 Apr 1;38(4):581-6. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4574.
  29. Mork PJ, Nilsen TI. Sleep problems and risk of fibromyalgia: longitudinal data on an adult female population in Norway. Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Jan;64(1):281-4. doi: 10.1002/art.33346.
  30. Alhassani AA, Al-Zahrani MS. Is inadequate sleep a potential risk factor for periodontitis? PLoS One. 2020 Jun 16;15(6):e0234487. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234487.
  31. Swanson CM. Sleep disruptions and bone health: what do we know so far? Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2021 Aug 1;28(4):348-353. doi: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000639.
  32. Faria A, Allen AH, Fox N, Ayas N, Laher I. The public health burden of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep Sci. 2021 Jul-Sep;14(3):257-265. doi: 10.5935/1984-0063.20200111.
  33. Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, Bliwise DL, Buxton OM, Buysse D, Dinges DF, Gangwisch J, Grandner MA, Kushida C, Malhotra RK, Martin JL, Patel SR, Quan SF, Tasali E. Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. 2015 Jun 1;38(6):843-4. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4716.
  34. Chaput JP, Dutil C, Sampasa-Kanyinga H. Sleeping hours: what is the ideal number and how does age impact this? Nat Sci Sleep. 2018 Nov 27;10:421-430. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S163071.
  35. Düzgün G, Durmaz Akyol A. Effect of Natural Sunlight on Sleep Problems and Sleep Quality of the Elderly Staying in the Nursing Home. Holist Nurs Pract. 2017 Sep/Oct;31(5):295-302. doi: 10.1097/HNP.0000000000000206.
  36. Dolezal BA, Neufeld EV, Boland DM, Martin JL, Cooper CB. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:1364387. doi: 10.1155/2017/1364387. Epub 2017 Mar 26. Erratum in: Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:5979510.
  37. McMahon WR, Ftouni S, Phillips AJK, Beatty C, Lockley SW, Rajaratnam SMW, Maruff P, Drummond SPA, Anderson C. The impact of structured sleep schedules prior to an in-laboratory study: Individual differences in sleep and circadian timing. PLoS One. 2020 Aug 12;15(8):e0236566. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0236566.
  38. Ebrahim IO, Shapiro CM, Williams AJ, Fenwick PB. Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013 Apr;37(4):539-49. doi: 10.1111/acer.12006.
  39. Drake C, Roehrs T, Shambroom J, Roth T. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013 Nov 15;9(11):1195-200. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.3170.
  40. Okamoto-Mizuno K, Mizuno K. Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm. J Physiol Anthropol. 2012 May 31;31(1):14. doi: 10.1186/1880-6805-31-14.
  41. Shechter A, Kim EW, St-Onge MP, Westwood AJ. Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: A randomized controlled trial. J Psychiatr Res. 2018 Jan;96:196-202. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.10.015.
  42. Kim Y, Wilkens LR, Schembre SM, Henderson BE, Kolonel LN, Goodman MT. Insufficient and excessive amounts of sleep increase the risk of premature death from cardiovascular and other diseases: the Multiethnic Cohort Study. Prev Med. 2013 Oct;57(4):377-85. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2013.06.017.
  43. Grandner MA, Drummond SP. Who are the long sleepers? Towards an understanding of the mortality relationship. Sleep Med Rev. 2007 Oct;11(5):341-60. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2007.03.010. Epub 2007 Jul 10.