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The Importance of Sleep

The Importance of Sleep

Getting the right amount of quality sleep at nights will aid in the protection of your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.

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What Makes Us Sleep?

There are many factors that play a key role in preparing your body for sleep. We all  have an internal "body clock" that controls awake time and sleep time. The “body clock “ typically has a 24-hour repeating rhythm (called the circadian rhythm). Two main processes work together to control this rhythm. The first process is a desire to sleep which builds with every hour that you're awake. This desire for sleep peaks in the evening and goes away after a good night’s sleep.

The compound adenosine (ah-DEN-o-seen) plays a role in this desire for sleep. While awake, your level of adenosine rises. This increased level of adenosine signals a shift towards sleep. While you sleep, your body lowers your adenosine level. A second process involves your internal body clock. This clock is in sync with certain cues in the environment. Light, darkness, and other cues help determine when you feel awake and when you feel drowsy. Your body releases chemicals in a daily rhythm, which your body clock controls.

As it gets darker, your body releases a hormone called melatonin (mel-ah-TONE-in). Melatonin signals to your body that it's time to prepare for sleep, and it helps you feel drowsy. The amount of melatonin in your bloodstream peaks as the evening wears on. As the sun rises, and the cocks crow, your body releases another compound called cortisol (KOR-tih-sol). This hormone naturally prepares your body to wake up.

What are the benefits of a good night’s sleep?

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Healthy Brain Function and Emotional Well-Being

Sleep helps to recharge your brain’s power. During a good night’s sleep your body’s cells get reenergized, brain waste is cleared, and most importantly your memory and learning ability is improved. 

Sleep also even plays vital roles in regulating mood, appetite and libido. Sleep is directly connected to every basic function of your body. The way you move, think, react, problem-solve; your attention span and decision-making sleep remains the one constant.

Physical Health

Sleep is also key in maintaining peak physical health. A good night’s sleep is directly involved in the healing and repairing of your heart and blood vessels. Lack of sleep can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Sleep deficiency is also linked to a higher risk of obesity.

A recent study conducted on teenagers showed a clear link between sleep deprivation and obesity. A healthy level of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin) are controlled by sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes north, and your level of leptin goes south resulting in you being hungrier and thus leading to obesity is not managed correctly. Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deprivation results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.

Your immune system is heavily reliant on sleep to stay healthy. Your immune system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances. Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds.

Daytime Performance and Safety

Getting the right quality of sleep at the right times helps you function well throughout the day. People who are sleep deficient are much less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish basic tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. Simply losing about 1–2 hours per night consistently can have the effect as if you haven’t slept all day. Prolonged lack of sleep also can lead to micro-sleep. Micro-sleep are those brief naps that occur when you're normally awake. Many Americans are aware of the risks associated with  sleep deficiency. In fact, they may not even realize that they're sleep deficient. Even with limited or poor-quality sleep, they may still think that they can function well.

How much sleep do I need?

The amount of sleep you need daily will gradually change over the course of your life. Although sleep needs vary from person to person, the chart below shows general recommendations for different age groups. 


Recommended Amount of Sleep

Infants aged 4-12 months

12-16 hours a day (including naps)

Children aged 1-2 years

11-14 hours a day (including naps)

Children aged 3-5 years

10-13 hours a day (including naps)

Children aged 6-12 years

9-12 hours a day

Teens aged 13-18 years

8-10 hours a day

Adults aged 18 years or older

7–8 hours a day


I’m not getting enough sleep, what should I do?

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  • Ann Larson


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