We all know that a poor night’s sleep can leave us feeling less than our best. However, a regular lack of sleep can have wider implications on our physical and mental health. In fact, a recent study by Sealy UK, the world’s biggest bed brand, found that 1-in-6 people have seen their GP in the last 12-months because of illnesses related to a lack of sleep, equating to 9.5 million appointments.

However, sleep can be as important to our health as what we eat and drink. Here, Natalie Armstrong, sleep expert at Sealy UK explains the five ways that sleep improves your health.

It can improve your mental health
We’ve all experienced the increased irritability that comes with a poor night’s sleep, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that sleep plays an important role in your mental wellbeing. Sealy UK’s research found that one in four people reported improved symptoms of depression and anxiety after a good night’s sleep. This is because insufficient sleep can cause our body to produce increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and also make it harder to rationalise worries or irrational thoughts, which can exacerbate existing mental health conditions.

It can help you regulate your weight
A lack of sleep has been shown to impact your metabolism. After just four days of poor quality sleep, your body’s ability to process insulin is hampered, meaning it’s harder to process fats from your bloodstream, causing your body to store them as fat instead. And not only this, a poor night’s sleep can affect your brain’s decision-making abilities and impulse control, making it harder to say no to food cravings.

It boosts your immune system
It’s true - sleep really is the best medicine. A chronic lack of sleep can impact your immune system and leave you less able to fight off bugs and infections. In fact, researchers in Germany discovered that good quality sleep improves your immune cells known as T cells. Studies also show that people who suffer from low quality or a lack of sleep are more susceptible to illness, while a lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover from illness.

It’s good for your heart health
Sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy heart. In fact, people who don't get enough sleep are at higher risk of cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. This is because disturbed sleep is associated with higher levels of the protein CRP, which is a sign of inflammation, the process linked with heart and circulatory disease.

It’s a natural pain killer
Forget the paracetamol – it seems a good night’s sleep could be the cure for your aches and pains. Many studies have shown a link between poor sleep and an increased sensitivity to pain. This is because poor sleep can interfere with certain pain parts of the brain and change how a person perceives and reacts to discomfort. In fact, one study showed that after just one night of sleep deprivation, the region of the brain that senses pain goes into overdrive, while the regions that help modulate that pain response go on strike. In short, the worse your sleep, the lower your pain threshold.