Sleep is a human necessity.
We hear a lot of people saying they will sleep when they’re dead; those people perhaps don’t realise how much faster they’re running towards their grave than they would if they were sleeping enough.
What most people don’t understand is that even just one night of disrupted sleep carries serious consequences for our health.
In Spring, when we lose one hour of sleep due to daylight saving time, heart attacks increase by 21%.
After one week of sleep loss, sugar levels are so disrupted that people could be diagnosed as pre-diabetic.
Men who sleep 5 hours a night have significantly smaller testicles and produce less testosterone than men who get 8 or more hours each night
Women who sleep 5 hours a night experience a decrease in reproductive health.
Lack of sleep impacts the body as well as the mind. In order to be able to absorb new information we need sleep before and after learning. During the deep stages of sleep our memories are moved, by waves called sleep spindles, from the hippocampus (the informational inbox of the brain where new memories are stored) to the cortex of the brain, where long-term memories are stored. This transfer is what allows long-lasting memories and the ability to keep learning by freeing space in the hippocampus.
Losing just one hour of sleep one day can decrease your learning ability by 40%. This can make the difference between passing or failing an exam. Long periods of short or disrupted sleep are linked to a plethora of mental conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia. When we don’t get enough sleep the amygdala (the region of the brain responsible for strong emotional reactions) is more responsive, which is why people who don’t sleep enough often show symptoms of anger and depression.
Sleep can prevent or reduce the risk of suffering mental illness but it can also contribute preventing physical illness. Research has shown that getting one night of poor sleep can cause a 70% drop in natural killer cells activity. These are the cells that identify and destroy the cancer cells we are constantly producing. Lack of sleep can not only induce the formation of tumours, it also speeds their growth by 200% compared to subjects who sleep 8 hours regularly.
It’s time we make sleep a priority, so that we can be more productive (feel more awake during the day), enhance our learning abilities, increase academic rate and life expectancy, feel better and look leaner, prevent mental and physical diseases.
We can start making a difference by consuming less alcohol and caffeine, going to bed a little earlier, improving quality of sleep by using blackout curtains and avoiding blue lights in the room where we sleep, starting a meditative practice to manage stress during the day, exposing ourselves to natural light more during the day, incrementally increasing physical activity.
We have more control over our health than we think we do. When will you make sleep a priority?
Walker, M., Why We Sleep, the new science of Sleep and Dreams. Penguin Books, 2018.