Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. Getting adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle and can benefit your heart, weight, mind and more. Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. It also increases your risk of obesity.

Here are some surprising ways a good night’s sleep benefits everyone from the elderly and athletes to students and children.

  1. Improve memory – Your mind is surprisingly busy while you snooze. While sleeping, you can strengthen memories or practice skills learned while you were awake – a process called consolidation. So, if you’re trying to learn something new – whether it’s Spanish or a new tennis swing – you’ll perform better after sleeping.
  2. Curb inflammation – Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get less sleep – six or fewer hours a night – have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more shut eye.
  3. Spur creativity – Get a good night’s sleep before getting out the easel and paintbrushes or the pen and paper. Researchers have found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.
  4. Increase athletic performance – If you’re an athlete, there may be one simple way to improve your performance: sleep. A recent study discovered that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina. Sleep has the potential to improve every athlete, in every sport.
  5. Improve your grades – It’s no surprise that college students who don’t get enough sleep get worse grades than those who do. Also, children between the ages of 10 and 16 who have sleep disordered breathing are more likely to have problems with attention and learning. Sleep disordered breaching includes snoring, sleep apnea, and other types of interrupted breathing during sleep.
  6. Achieve a healthy weight – If you are thinking about going on a diet, you might want to plan an earlier bedtime, too. Researchers have found that dieters who are well rested lose more fat than those who are sleep deprived. Dieters also feel hungrier when they get less sleep.
  7. Lower stress – When it comes to your health, stress and sleep are nearly one and the same – both can affect cardiovascular health. Sleep can lower your stress levels, resulting in lower blood pressure. It’s also believed sleep affects cholesterol levels, which play a significant role in the development of heart disease.
  8. Avoid accidents – Did you know that being tired is the No.1 cause of fatal single-car run-off-the-road crashes due to the driver’s performance? Insufficient sleep for just one night can be as detrimental to your driving ability as having an alcoholic drink because it affects your reaction time and decision making.
  9. Steer clear of depression – Sleeping well means more to our overall wellbeing than simply avoiding irritability. A lack of sleep can contribute to depression but a good night’s sleep can help decrease anxiety. Better sleep leads to better emotional stability.

Keep in mind that lost sleep during the week can’t be made up during the weekend. If you find you are sleeping more on the weekends, you need to find a way to get more sleep Monday-Friday.

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and wellbeing. If you have trouble sleeping, read How to Sleep Better.