Who needs sleep?
well you’re never gonna get it
Who needs sleep?
tell me what’s that for
Who needs sleep?
be happy with what you’re getting
There’s a guy who’s been awake
since the Second World War

The Barenaked Ladies

I was in the Atlanta airport a few weeks ago, and picked up the latest issue of Scientific  American because of the cover: “The Power of Sleep”.  I have a brother who says “you can sleep when you’re dead”; as if sleep was some sort of luxury, or in his case, an inconvenience. Actually, lack of sleep will make you dead.  Rats deprived of sleep all died within a month. There is  even a condition called Fatal Familial Insomnia.  It follows family lines, and can express itself at any time during a person’s life, and is always fatal within a few months.

Short of outright killing us, lack of sleep has all sorts of other negative impacts on our health, mood, memory and learning.  As little as one night’s disturbed sleep has been shown to lower our immune system response.  Poor sleep also affects our ability to clear glucose from the bloodstream. Another study showed that the levels of the appetite stimulating hormone grehlin jumped 28% in sleep deprived men, and the appetite suppressing hormone leptin dropped by 18%. These sleep deprived men reported a 23% increase in hunger levels. There are several studies showing a relationship between poor sleep and obesity and the development of Type II Diabetes.

It is during sleep that the brain clears toxins via glial cell activity.  There are some studies suggesting that there is a relationship between insomnia and dementia. In 2013 researchers showed that the space between the cells in the brain increases during sleep, allowing for better flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the brain. These researchers injected beta amyloid ( the precursor of the amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer’s disease), into mice, and found that it was cleared from the brain twice as fast during sleep compared to awake animals.

Our emotional state is impacted by sleep as well.  One study showed that subjects memory of negative words doubled, while the ability to remember positive words decreased by 50% when subjects were forced to cut back on sleep.  No wonder I’m so grumpy when I don’t get enough sleep!  This correlates with others studies showing a link between insomnia and depression. Sleep also strengthens memories that our brains deem valuable. This provides support for the arguments about memory put forth by Daniel Schacter at Harvard.  His studies show that we evolved memory systems not to reminisce about the past, but rather to be able to use prior experience to enhance our future performance.

The CDC has added lack of sleep as a major health epidemic in America. We sleep 30%  less than our parents.  In addition to the effects of poor sleep listed above, it also puts us at higher risk for stroke, and developing autoimmune disorders.

So what can we do to improve our quality of sleep?  Here are a few tips from a great article (click to read)  from Dr. Mercola’s website:

  • Get your sleeping space as close to total darkness as possible.  This includes moving digital clocks away from your bedside.
  • Stay away from TV or computer screens for at least an hour before going to bed.
  • Keep your bedroom temperature on the cool side.  Optimal temperatures for sleeping are between 60-68 degrees
  • Get regular exercise
  • Plan your time so you can get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
  • Don’t eat right before bedtime

So who needs sleep.  We all do.  Sleep is crucial for our physical and emotional health, wellbeing, and performance.  Make sure you are getting yours!