The Importance of Sleep

How would you react if I told you that there is something you could do to improve your memory, lose weight, and reduce your chances of getting ill? Sounds like snake oil, right? But it’s absolutely true. Getting the proper amount of sleep does all of these things and more. Unfortunately, we have a host of negative cultural associations with sleep. We think of people who sleep a lot as lazy or indulgent. We reserve respect for those who pull all-nighters, because they were able to power through their slothful desire for slumber. But the science of sleep teaches us that catching z’s has a profound impact on our health and wellbeing.

Healthy sleep is divided into 4 main stages. Stages 1-3 are called “Non-rapid eye movement” and the 4th stage is called “Rapid Eye Movement”, or REM for short. Sleep progresses through these stages in 90-120 minute cycles throughout the night. As the night progresses, the REM stages get longer and this is when we dream. The amount of sleep that we need is totally variable from individual to individual, but generally speaking adults require anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Are you a student who has been studying through the night in an effort to ace your exams? While your dedication is admirable, you may actually be making things harder on yourself than they have to be. Recent studies suggest that sleep deprivation has a profoundly negative impact on memory performance. While the exact mechanisms are still being researched, the association between sleep and memory formation is now firmly established. Struggling to lose weight? If you aren’t getting enough sleep, the hormones that regulate hunger and satiation may very well be out of balance. People who are sleep deprived tend to have more Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and less Leptin (the satisfaction hormone) than those who are fully rested. Have you been getting sick a lot lately? A growing body of evidence suggests that there is a correlation between sleep deprivation and reduced immune function. Not only does this make your body more friendly to nasty microbes, but it may also make you more susceptible to certain forms of cancer.

Sleep is not an indulgence. It is not lazy. Sleep is something that we all need and meeting our sleep needs ought to be a priority that we take seriously.

Julian Ungar-SargonComment