What if you learned that there is something you can do that will improve your memory, decrease stress, help regulate your emotions, and lower your risk of getting sick?
What is this magical thing that can improve so many aspects of your life? The answer is sleep.
In fact, there has been so much research linking sleep to positive results that the Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have released a joint consensus statement recommending that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep a night for a long time. optimal health.
Yet research also shows that over 30% of American adults regularly sleep less than the recommended amount. Our lab results indicate the percentage is even higher among University of Utah students. Indeed, insufficient sleep
is now considered a public health epidemic, so striving to get enough sleep should be a high priority during college and beyond.
Insufficient sleep is associated with an increased risk for a long list of chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Short sleep is also associated with a higher risk of mortality. Usually short sleepers who say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” are likely to be dead sooner than they want.
We now know that sleep is essential for the brain to flush out accumulated toxins – a nighttime “deep cleanse”. Less sleep has a detrimental effect on the immune system – just 6 hours a night is associated with a significant increase in systemic inflammation.
Research has also shown that insufficient sleep is associated with a greater susceptibility to upper respiratory disease and weight gain. Critically, weekend “catch-up” sleep does not completely reverse these changes.
Poor sleep increases susceptibility to mental illnesses. Key to these associations is research demonstrating the key role sleep plays in regulating emotions. Insufficient sleep is associated with greater emotional responsiveness to stress the next day and increased interpersonal difficulties. A single night of sleep deprivation disrupts the brain circuits essential for regulating emotions.
To be successful in college, getting enough sleep is essential for memory and learning. Sleep facilitates the transfer of information from short-term memory to long-term memory in the brain. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep that occurs while we are dreaming, is essential for the integration of information.
It is important to note that we have a higher percentage of REM sleep in the last hours of a normal night’s sleep. Cutting off sleep by getting up after less than 7 hours means depriving yourself of a sleep stage essential for brain health. Hopefully it goes without saying that shooting “sleepless nights” is not a good study strategy.
Perhaps you are a person who regularly sleeps less than 7 hours a night, but does not feel impaired. Can some people “get by” with a usual short sleep? We investigated this question in the Restoration and Stress Lab (RESTlab) of the Department of Psychology. Our studies suggest that a lower subjective sleep need and a lack of perceived daytime dysfunction still lead to negative health consequences of short sleep.
We find that chronically sleep deprived people may have an inaccurate picture of their own cognitive impairment, such as a drunk person who feels good to drive. By examining the brain wave patterns of habitual little sleepers with no reported dysfunction, we find that they exhibit drowsiness and onset of sleep even when asked to stay awake. So far, we haven’t found any evidence that people can adjust to chronic short sleep without experiencing negative consequences.
So what can you do to improve your sleep? We can’t always control the quality of our sleep, but there are aspects of our environment and behavior that we can control. Perhaps the most important thing is to keep a schedule that allows you to get enough sleep. Set a bedtime that allows 7-9 hours of sleep. Develop a relaxing nighttime routine before your scheduled bedtime. Turn off electronics, dim the lights, and relax at least 30 minutes before bed. Your bedroom should be cool (neither too hot nor too cold), dark and quiet. Regular exercise also leads to better sleep, in addition to many other health benefits.
Finally, for people who suffer from sleep disorders (eg, insomnia), there are effective treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
With so much to gain, why not make getting enough sleep a priority?