After a long, hard day, nothing beats the feeling of kicking back, resting your head on the pillow and drifting off to sleep. But for your body, that’s when the real work begins. As you’re catching 40 winks, your body is busy restoring your skin, immunity and brain function in a way it cannot while you are awake. So, if you want to optimise your health and wellbeing, there’s one easy and enjoyable thing you can do starting tonight: Hit the sack! Here are the lesser-known benefits of a healthy sleep on your body and mind.

Immunity

Your pineal gland, a pea-sized organ located in the middle of your brain, works the night shift—it literally starts pumping melatonin into the bloodstream beginning at dusk. The hormone is well-known for its role in inducing sleep (you have likely seen it in supplement form as a sleep aid sold in pharmacies). But multiple studies show that it also has the ability to boost immunity. Melatonin acts as a powerful antioxidant, possibly protecting you against infection and disease.

Immunity - a solid night sleep delivers a boost to your immune system.

Your body also produces proteins called cytokines while you’re sleeping. Some of these proteins promote slumber, while others help fight infection or inflammation. Not getting enough shut-eye can interfere with your body’s production of these compounds as well as other antibodies and cells that work to keep you healthy.

This may put you at an increased risk of a variety of illnesses and diseases—from colds and the flu, to accidents and injuries, to obesity and diabetes. Consider these sleep statistics: People who slept less than seven hours per night were nearly three times more likely to develop a cold than people who logged eight or more hours, reports a study in the journal the Archives of Internal Medicine. Skimping on shut-eye also causes trouble when you’re behind the wheel, as sleeping less than six hours increases the risk of car accidents. And researchers from Australia found that getting less than six hours a night could increase type 2 diabetes risk by 30 per cent compared to those who get seven hours a night.

Beauty

How much does that high-end eye cream or name-brand overnight face mask cost you? Believe it or not, one of the best beauty boosters—a good night’s rest—is totally free.

In a sleep-deprivation study commissioned by cosmetics company Estée Lauder, researchers found that poor sleepers had increased signs of ageing (including fine lines and reduced elasticity) and slower recovery from skin stressors like ultraviolet (UV) radiation and inflammation.

Getting a good night sleep is more effective than any beauty treatment.

Occasionally burning the midnight oil won’t cause much damage, but chronically skimping on sleep can lead to inflammation, and excess inflammation could trigger acne breakouts or even inflammatory disorders, such as psoriasis and eczema. Clearly, it’s time to make beauty sleep a priority.

Productivity

Have a big exam, interview or presentation? A good night’s sleep is a must! During the night, new pathways are formed in the brain, which makes learning and recalling information easier. Logging quality sleep also helps improve your attention, focus, creativity and decision-making abilities.

Sleep Expert Joy Bauer looks at the more obscure benefits of getting plenty of sleepAim to get seven to eight hours of restful, restorative sleep each night so you can wake up looking and feeling your best.