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Lack of sleep is never good, but did you know that it increases your risk for serious health concerns?
If you’ve ever spent a night staring at your ceiling or checking the clock every 5 minutes, you know how you feel the next day: tired, cranky, and generally out of sorts. But missing out on the recommended 7 to 8 hours of slumber nightly does more than make you feel grumpy. The long-term effects of sleep deprivation are real. It drains your mental abilities and puts your physical health at real risk.
Scientific studies show that a lack of sleep causes significant changes in the body, affects long-term memory and increases your risk for obesity, disease, and even early death.
Why Sleep is Important
Sleep is an important function for many reasons. When you sleep, your brain signals your body to release hormones and compounds that help:
- decrease risk for health conditions
- manage your hunger levels
- maintain your immune system
- retain memory
Sleep Helps Your Memory
Besides helping you focus, sleep helps protect and strengthen your memory. Research shows that sleeping after learning can help with memory retention. It also reduces interference from external events.
People who are sleep-deprived:
- have a harder time receiving information due to the brain’s overworked neurons
- may interpret events differently
- tend to have impaired judgment
- lose their ability to access previous information
Harvard Research suggests that sleep helps learning and memory in two distinct ways. First, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently. Second, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.
It’s important to get seven to eight hours of sleep so that you can experience all the sleep stages. No one stage is responsible for memory and learning. Two stages (rapid eye movement and slow wave sleep) contribute to:
- creative thinking
- procedural memory
- long-term memories
- memory processing
Sleep loss and sleep disorders are among the most common yet frequently overlooked and readily treatable health problems in the United States.
After decades of research, the case can be confidently made that sleep loss and sleep disorders have profound and widespread effects on human health.
7 to 8 Hours for Longevity
Again, the healthy amount of sleep for the average adult is around seven to eight hours each night.
Researchers in the United Kingdom and Italy analyzed data from 16 separate studies conducted over 25 years, covering more than 1.3 million people and more than 100,000 deaths. They published their findings in the journal Sleep. Those who generally slept for less than six hours a night were 12 percent more likely to experience a premature death. People who slept more than eight to nine hours per night had an even higher risk, at 30 percent.
Researchers also found that people who reduced their sleep time from seven hours to five hours or less had 1.7 times the risk of death from all causes.
When we are sleep deprived, our focus, attention, and vigilance drift, making it more difficult to receive information. Without adequate sleep and rest, over-worked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.
In addition, our interpretation of events may be affected. We lose our ability to make sound decisions because we can no longer accurately assess the situation, plan accordingly, and choose the correct behavior. So our overall judgment becomes impaired.
Although chronic sleep deprivation affects different individuals in a variety of ways (and the effects are not entirely known), it is clear that a good night’s rest has a strong impact on learning and memory.
For more information about sleep see these articles: