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Why is Sleep Important? Here are just a few reasons.

Less Z’s, More Weight

People who don’t get enough sleep risk getting fat. In a University of Chicago study, men who were limited to four hours of nightly sleep had decreased levels of leptin, a hormone that signals the body you’re full. “Not getting enough sleep leads to increased appetite and a craving for carbohydrate-based foods,” says Dr. James MacFarlane, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and lab director of the Centre for Sleep and Chronobiology. “This pushes many people towards weight gain.”

The Diabetes Link

Sleep scientist Eve Van Cauter at the University of Chicago recently monitored 27 sleepers aged 23 to 42 in their homes. One group slept just over five hours on weeknights; the other, eight. Van Cauter then tested the volunteers for insulin resistance—how well the body uses the insulin to regulate sugar levels in the body (the greater one’s resistance, the less effectively the body uses insulin). The results were astonishing. Those with five hours sleep had 50 percent more insulin resistance than those with eight hours. Researchers found that the results were comparable to what you’d expect to see in people decades older.

Accelerated Aging

When lab animals are deprived of sleep, they succumb to infections, their hair falls out and they rapidly waste away. “It could be a faster aging process or it could be an immune system gone haywire,” says Meir Kryger, director of the Sleep Disorders Centre at St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg. “There are so many hormonal changes that are dependent on a normal sleep-wake pattern. Lots of things go wrong if you don’t sleep properly.”

Growth hormone is suppressed, for example, in people who don’t experience deep sleep. Children with sleep apnea—who sleep poorly because they frequently stop breathing—are often small as a result. Adults see changes in their fat-to-muscle ratio, which means more sagging and the likelihood of middle-aged paunch.

Your Memory is Wiped

A study in Sleep found that people's accuracy on working-memory tasks dropped by about 15 percent while they pulled an all-nighter. Sleep helps your brain consolidate information, so without that recovery time, you're unable to file away important data. Can you afford 15% -- or more loss in brainpower?

You Get Sicker

University of Chicago researchers found that antibodies in sleep-deprived people who'd received a vaccine were about 50 percent weaker than those in well-rested people. Wake up early for that flu shot and it may not protect you so well. Harvard researchers also found that blood levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of heart-disease risk, can spike if you skip the sheets for just a few hours.

Your Cancer Risk Rises

During sleep your body produces melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle. Interrupt sleep and you interrupt melatonin synthesis, which can be a problem. A 2007 University of Texas study review concluded that not only does melatonin detoxify harmful, cancer-causing free radicals, but in doing so it actually creates more antioxidants. Melatonin may also boost the effectiveness of vitamin C, another antioxidant. A good snooze could goose your morning OJ's potency.

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