Who needs sleep?

We need sleep.

Sleep. We know we need it. We know it’s good for us. But did you know that helping your child develop healthy sleep patterns is one of the most important things you can do for them? There is an incredible body of research around the importance of sleep. Sleep improves our health, our mood, our thinking, and our performance. Here are some of the interesting findings on sleep.

Sleep & Health

Sleep makes us thinner. This may be because it helps us become more efficient at processing the food we eat. It could also be because the hormones that regulate our appetite (ghrelin and leptin) are affected by sleep. Plus, just one night of poor sleep makes us crave fat. One study found that sleep deprived subjects consume an average of 550 more calories per day.

Sleep keeps us young. A week of four hours per night makes some parts of a 30-year-old body resemble that of a 60-year-old. And it takes a week to recover. Plus, our skin looks much better when we sleep properly. Sleep deprivation increases fine lines and wrinkles by 45% and blemishes and redness by 10%.

Sleep helps us make babies. Sleep deprivation has been linked to infertility in men and women, likely due to hormone regulation. Sperm counts are decreased by 25% in men who sleep less than 6 hours a night or who get very poor sleep. For the women who slept less than 6 hours a night in their ninth month of pregnancy, labour is harder. It takes longer and those women were four times more likely to need caesarean deliveries.

Sleep helps us recover. One study sprayed the common cold into people’s noses. Sleep deprived people were three times more likely to get sick. Another study showed antibody levels in people who had just received the Hepatitis B vaccine. Sleeping helped increase antibodies. Those who averaged less than 6 hours of sleep had very little antibodies. It may even have made the vaccine ineffective. Sleep deprivation increases our risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

Sleep repairs our brains. Researchers found that while mice sleep, their brain cells shrink. This makes more space for fluid in the brain to wash away toxins. Researchers believe the same happens in our brains. This is important because Alzheimer’s is associated with a toxic build-up of specific proteins. Studies in Sweden have shown that men who report having sleep problems are 1.5 times more likely to contract Alzheimer’s. Other studies have found that sleep deprivation causes mice to lose 35% of a brain cell linked with mental alertness and cognitive function.

Sleep & Emotions

Sleep helps us stay calm. When we are sleep deprived we feel worse. We are more stressed, angry, sad, and exhausted. Sleep deprivation decreases our ability to regulate strong emotions. And it makes it harder to manage physical pain. So when we are tired we feel worse and we are worse at handling how we feel.

Sleep helps us manage emotions. It regulates hormones like serotonin and dopamine. Sleep changes which areas of our brain process information. Sleep helps us process emotional stress. In one study at Berkeley, participants were shown emotional images. Twelve hours later they were shown the same images again while their brains were scanned. Those who had not been allowed to sleep during the break showed brain activation in the emotional center of the brain. They also showed more stress. Those who were allowed to sleep showed brain activation in the more rational parts of the brain when processing the image.

Sleep & Thinking

Sleep helps us process information. A study from Berkeley showed that participants who had enough sleep could correctly read facial expressions. Sleep deprived people made many mistakes. Misinterpreting someone’s facial expressions can increase conflicts and cause many problems!

Sleep helps us learn. A joint study between Berkeley and Harvard showed that sleep helps us improve both motor skills and learning. Participants were taught finger-tapping sequences. After sleeping for the night, participants had a 17-20% improvement in speed. When the researchers looked at only the most challenging sequences there was a 29% improvement. Another study started with the best students who were getting enough sleep. They then limit their sleep to 7 hours a night. 91% of students who were getting enough sleep now did better than the sleep deprived group.

Sleep makes us smarter. One fun study gave students a math problem and helped them solve it. 12 hours later they gave them more math problems and 20% discovered a shortcut. When the 12-hour gap included around 8 hours of sleep, then 60% of students found the shortcut.

Sleep helps us remember accurately. Researchers have found that REM sleep helps our brain hold on to memories. Sleep deprivation may be linked with false memories. Research subjects were shown some videos. Later they were shown a new video and asked if they remembered having seen it. Subjects who slept 5 hours or less per night were more likely to say they remembered seeing it.

Sleep & Performance

Sleep helps us reach our goals. Self-control requires mental energy. That is why it’s harder to follow a diet, quit smoking, or do anything else that requires resisting desires when we are sleep deprived. For our kids, the effects of sleep deprivation on behaviour may show up later in life. A study from Idaho State University found that sleep in high school is correlated with binge drinking in university. Students who averaged one hour of sleep more per night had a 10% drop in binge drinking.

Sleep improves our physical abilities. Leading sports teams watch their players sleep and carefully plan their travel schedules. This is because it makes players faster and more accurate. Elite basketball players improved free throws by 9% with enough sleep. Baseball players were better able to judge which pitches to swing at.

Sleep deprivation is like being drunk. If we stay awake for 17-19 hours, our performance is like having a few drinks. After a few more hours our brain is functioning the same as someone who is legally drunk. What’s even scarier is that sleep deprivation is cumulative. That means someone who has gone for 2 weeks of getting 6 hours of sleep per night is functioning the same as someone who has gone 24 hours without sleep.

 Sleep & Life

And if that wasn’t enough, sleep keeps us alive and helps us cope with stress. People who sleep just 5 hours a night have increased stress hormones and a 15% increased chance of dying.

We all know that sleep is important. We also know that parents (and kids) struggle with getting enough sleep. Why is it so hard to prioritize sleep? This week we look at how to develop healthy sleep hygiene for our families. We also look at how to fall asleep faster and other behaviours that improve sleep quality.

Sign up here to receive articles, tips & resources direct to your inbox.