In the mental checklist of things we should do to take care of ourselves, sleep never seems to make it to the top. We limit fatty foods and we squeeze in power walks, yet we’re still up at 1 a.m. scrolling our news feed.

It’s exhausting to keep up that schedule and, experts say, a huge detriment to our mental health.

“Prioritizing sleep is the ultimate form of self-care. All other self-care elements are enhanced by sleep,” said Dr. Christina Abavana, a sleep medicine specialist with the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute Sleep Care Center in Shelton.

She gives the following examples:

  • Sleep benefits exercise because muscle growth and repair occur while snoozing. It’s also essential for developing muscle memory needed in the gym or to play sports.
  • Sleep deprivation is associated with increased levels of hormones that facilitate weight gain. Getting a good night’s sleep keeps the hormones at a normal level.
  • Sleep enhances psychological and emotional well-being.

“Think of a good night’s sleep as a form of therapy. Emotionally-laden events during the day play out in our dreams at night, helping us better cope when we wake,” said Dr. Abavana.

Dr. Priya Bakaya, a sleep medicine specialist with the Sleep Care Center in Norwich, agreed.

“Allowing the body and mind to rest allows us to function better in the daytime and uplifts our mood,” she said.

This is best accomplished when you can follow a consistent sleep schedule instead of trying to catch up on weekends. Most adults, the two noted, need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

“Some of sleep’s benefits are lost due to insufficient sleep and cannot be recovered,” Dr. Abavana said, although she said extra hours of sleep on weekends doesn’t hurt and has some restorative benefit. “It’s not ideal, but better than chronic sleep deprivation.”

Regularly missing critical rest can create an unhealthy situation, Dr. Bakaya said.

“Sleep deprivation has short- and long-term health effects,” she said. “It has been shown to make you feel drowsy and irritable the next morning, and, in the long term, can weaken your immune system and heighten the long-term risk of physical and mental health problems.”

Specifically, Dr. Abavana said sleep deprivation affects:

  • Cognition.
  • Attention span.
  • Working memory, reasoning and decision-making abilities.
  • Organ function, increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.
  • Mental health, leading to depression and increased risk of suicide.

Sometimes, there is a medical reason you cannot sleep or don’t experience restful sleep. An overnight sleep study at a Sleep Care Center can help pinpoint such problems as obstructive sleep apnea or periodic limb movements keeping you awake.