Sleep isn’t just the period of time each day when you finally get to rest your eyes. Getting enough sleep has a massive effect on your overall health.

“Sleep is a big component of leading a healthy life. Even if you’re eating a healthy diet and exercising, if you’re not getting enough sleep, it can undermine those other healthy efforts,” said Christopher Giddings Connolly, MD, a family medicine and sleep medicine doctor at Geisinger Mt. Pocono.

In the short term, not getting enough sleep can lead to a lack of alertness and impaired memory. The moodiness caused by a lack of sleep can cause relationship stress, making you more likely to have conflicts with others.

Not getting enough sleep can also hinder your quality of life, making you less likely to exercise or participate in normal daily activities.

In the long term, not getting enough sleep can put you at an increased risk for serious health conditions.

“Adults should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep every night,” Dr. Giddings Connolly said.

Aiming to get that many hours of sleep each night has some big pay-offs to your health, both physical and mental.

1. It reduces your risk of serious health conditions

Sleep is important to your heart health – it plays a role in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels.

“Ongoing sleep deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke,” Dr. Giddings Connolly said.

Insufficient sleep has also been linked to an increased risk of diabetes.

“Sleep affects your body’s hormone levels and ability to regulate and metabolize glucose (blood sugar),” Dr. Giddings Connolly said. “Over time, not getting enough sleep could cause a higher than normal blood sugar level, thus increasing your risk of diabetes.”

2. It gives you better control over your weight

Multiple studies show that people who sleep less are more likely to be obese.

“Sleep helps you maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry or full,” Dr. Giddings Connolly said. “Getting plenty of sleep keeps these hormones in check, making you less likely to overeat, binge or gain weight.”

Being well rested also means you’ll have the energy to exercise or cook a healthy meal at the end of the work day.

“If you’re working in the gym to get stronger, your body uses most of the night to heal the damage done to cells and tissues when you were metabolically active,” Dr. Giddings Connolly said. That means getting more sleep may help you build muscle more easily than if you’re sleep deprived.

3. You may not need to go to the doctor as frequently

Of course you still need your routine physical exams, but you may be less likely to call your doctor for a sick visit.

“Your immune system relies on you getting sleep to stay healthy,” Dr. Giddings Connolly said. “Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way your immune system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances. Getting enough sleep helps to ensure your immune system is functioning optimally.”

Studies have shown that people who get seven hours of sleep or less are almost three times more likely to get sick than people who get at least eight hours of sleep a night.

Sleep deprivation may also decrease your immune response to vaccinations, which could prevent you from getting the full benefit of important vaccines.

4. You’re less prone to injury

Getting enough sleep may keep you safer.

“When you’re sleep deprived, you’re more likely to have a household accident, such as cutting yourself while slicing vegetables, falling down the stairs or tripping over a toy – and those types of accidents can be serious,” Dr. Giddings Connolly said.

In fact, being well rested can potentially reduce your risk of a car accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving accounts for thousands of crashes, injuries and fatalities each year.

In addition to your physical health, more quality sleep can also improve your mood and memory as well as help you think clearer and make better decisions throughout the day.