Science is now showing that sleep is an essential pillar of health.
I recently watched a fascinating TED talk by sleep scientist Matt Walker. He shared many studies showing just how important sleep is for our health. Here’s a quick fact – a man who routinely sleeps 4-5 hours a night will have the same level of testosterone as a man 10 years older. Guys, that should get your attention!
A good night’s sleep not only helps us process what we’ve learned the day prior but good sleep also helps us learn the next day. A study showed that students who pulled an all nighter scored 40% lower on memory tests compared to students who slept 8 hours. This could be the difference between students who score an A versus one that fails! We now know that good sleep improves the ability of the part of the brain called the hippocampus to retain memories.
Sleep affects our heart health as well and we see this with daylight savings time. When we lose 1 hour of sleep in the spring there is a 24% increase in heart attacks that day. In the fall, when we gain 1 hour of sleep we see a 21% reduction in heart attacks. The same pattern is also seen with car accidents and suicide rates.
A lack of sleep can also have a significant effect on our immune system and our ability to ward off cancer cells. In our bodies, we have what are called natural killer cells which attack cancer cells. A four hour night of sleep was shown to reduce activity of natural killer cells by 70%. The link between the lack of sleep and cancer is strong enough that the World Health Organization has classified night shift work as a probable carcinogen.
Sleep also directly affects our DNA and gene activity. In a study where people got 6 hours of sleep for 1 week, half of the genes affected resulted in poor immune function and the other half resulted in increased tumour promotion, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease.
The scientific evidence is now clear that shorter sleep predicts a shorter life. So what can we do to improve sleep? Matt Walker provides two important tips. First, go to bed and wake up at the same time regularly, even during weekends. Second, keep the room temperature cool and aim for a bedroom temperature of 18 degrees celsius.
For me, I know that getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep helps me think clearer, be more productive, and deal better with the problems of the day. Here’s a challenge if you’re skeptical – commit to 7 to 8 hours of sleep for 1 week and see how you feel. Your body and your brain will thank you.
Written by Baris Huner, pharmacist at Intrepid Pharmacy
Link to TED talk Sleep is Your Super Power, by Matt Walker