We don’t sleep enough as a culture, where working long hours and going strong all the time is synonymous with success, and the invention of electricity (and now the Internet) give us reasons to stay up long after it’s turned dark outside.
The hard biological fact, however, is that most adults need at least seven to eight hours of sleep per 24-hour cycle. As soon as we get less than that, sleep researcher Matt Walker of UC Berkley says, “It’s very easy for us to measure impairments in your brain function and in your body functions.”
You can’t catch up on missed sleep later on
Sleep is not like a bank account, where you can take some out and put it back in later. Once you’ve missed a good night’s sleep, it’s gone for good, no matter how well you sleep the following night. To make things worse, lack of sleep causes cognitive damage that cannot be repaired by sleeping more the following night.
A healthy memory requires plenty of sleep
In his intriguing book, “The Organized Mind,” Daniel Levitin explains how sleep is necessary for the consolidation of memories. If you fail to sleep well for up to three nights following a particular experience or something you’ve learned, then it will be harder for you to remember accurately. This is especially important for developing children, who, if poor sleepers, can find their development compromised.
Walker describes it as “cementing those new files into the neural architecture of the brain so that you don’t forget.”
Lack of sleep is linked to cancer
The World Health Organization has stated that “shift work is classified as Class 2A carcinogen.” Studies have shown that night shift work increases the risk of women getting breast cancer. This happens when night shifts “disrupt the body’s production of melatonin, a known anti-oxidant capable of reducing the level of estrogen. High level of estrogen increases risks for getting breast cancer.”
The WHO also said that pregnant women who work night shifts are more likely to give birth to low-weight babies, based on studies done in Finland and Denmark.
Lack of sleep makes you sicker
Matt Walker explained that your immune system is impaired by up to 70 percent if you get only four hours of sleep for one night.
It becomes harder for the body to metabolize carbohydrates. In one experiment with young men who received four hours of sleep for six nights in a row, the subjects experienced “blood sugar dysregulation comparable to what happens in people with diabetes” and were able to be classified as pre-diabetic by the end of the study.
So, go to bed early tonight, if you can. Turn off the computer, the iPad, and your cellphone a good hour before you plan to sleep in order to aid you in relaxing and falling asleep. Your brain and body will thank you for, not only in the morning, but especially in the long run.