10 reasons to get a good night’s sleep

Today is world sleep day.

In celebration, I urge you all to drop everything and take a nap.

As I mentioned back in April last year, research has shown that getting 8 hours of sleep a night is important for optimal cognitive function. We all know how crappy we feel when we’re sleep-deprived. Brain fuzz takes over. We start to yawn uncontrollably in an effort to oxygenate our exhausted neurons. Our eyes start hurting and feeling dry, prompting us to rub them for relief.  Every horizontal surface starts to look attractive. But there is a lot more to it than just feeling lousy.

(As an aside, I think the people who design airport seating are evil sadists. Anyone who has done a transatlantic flight and had a layover in one of these torture chambers will know what I’m talking about. I stagger off the plane with dry, blood-shot eyes and make a beeline for the nearest horizontal surface. I try to squeeze my body around the metallic armrests on the seats, fail spectacularly, and invariably end up on the ground with all the other poor overseas travelers. Maybe it’s part of an official immigration strategy — a kind of passive discouragement to venture too far from the mother country. Anyway. Back to the point.)

Sleep is hugely underappreciated. This is a tragedy, because science is revealing that sleep is anything but wasted time. Here’s why:

  1. Sleep is essential for fat metabolism. You’d think the more active (i.e. awake) you are, the more fat you burn, but that’s not true. There are many complicated biochemical factors at work here; you can do the research if you want. I prefer to just think of my sleeping body as a fat-burning machine.
  2. Memories are consolidated during sleep. We’re not quite sure how this happens, but studies have shown that lack of sleep makes you forget stuff more easily. Sleep is critical part of the learning process. We need to get out of the way and let our brains do what they’ve evolved to do.
  3. Sleep is important for your emotional equilibrium. REM sleep is like a “nocturnal soothing balm,” easing the sharp edges off of negative things that have occurred during the day. It also improves our ability to identify positive emotions in others. Everyone knows that sleep-deprived people are grumpy and a pain to be around.
  4.  Sleep plays an important role in hormone regulation. In children and teenagers a lack of sleep can interfere with the release of growth hormones and affects hormones governing appetite, contributing to childhood obesity.
  5. Lack of sleep might cause psychiatric problems. Sleep apnea has been associated with ADHD and insomnia with depression. Most mentally ill patients have problems sleeping, and researchers think the lack of sleep might be a cause, not an effect. If you can’t sleep, try to fix it before you go nuts.
  6. Lack of sleep makes you accident-prone. In the US, an estimated 100,000 traffic accidents a year are caused by sleepy drivers. And you might not be the only one who dies in the crash. Let’s not even get into heavy machinery operation. Or power tools. Put the chainsaw down. Go inside and take a nap.
  7. Lack of sleep compromises your immune system. Not only will you get sick more often if you’re sleep deprived, but once you’ve succumbed to a virus or infection, your body has a harder time fighting it off. When you get the flu, do everyone a favor and stay home in bed, preferably asleep.
  8. Sleep deprivation makes you age faster. Lack of sleep hastens the onset and severity of age-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and memory loss. Ouch. ‘Nuff said.
  9. Sleep is good for your skin. “Beauty sleep” is not just a pretty phrase. It’s been proven scientifically. During sleep, collagen 1 production is accelerated. Why pay for expensive facelifts when you can just go to bed?
  10. And last but definitely not least, sleep deprivation is bad for your sex life. Lack of sleep leads to lowered testosterone levels in both men and women, which affects sexual as well as cardiac function, both of which are essential ingredients in an active sex life.

So there you have it, people. Another supremely useful post. Let’s see if it’s as popular as my 10 reasons not to wear a tie.

Now I have to go: the couch is calling.

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