Sleep is good for you. This point has been told to us at all ages, from the Kindergarten teachers that forced us to take naps to the college professors that call attention to the unsightly bags beneath our eyes. Sometimes, however, ideas become banal because their importance cannot be overstated. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is one such idea.
A recent article in The New York Times elucidates the findings of a handful of recent studies on the effects of sleep—both short and long term—on the human body. This plethora of new evidence reminds us that sleeping is one of the most effective ways to increase both mental and physical health.
Take, for example, the effects of sleeping on everyday functions of the brain. To the dismay of coffee consumers everywhere, one study shows that the drink does little to mitigate the effects of inadequate sleep. The article references a study of driving tests, where the sleep-deprived’s performance reflected that of drunk driver’s, regardless of the amount of caffeine ingested.
Just as alarming as the short-term effects are the chronic ones. Just like the body needs rest after a physical workout in order to build new muscle, the brain needs rest after mental exercises in order to reinforce concepts learned and prepare oneself for future learning.
During sleep, new learning and memory pathways become encoded in the brain, and adequate sleep is necessary for those pathways to work optimally. People who are well rested are better able to learn a task and more likely to remember what they learned.
Inadequate sleep also affects physical health just as severely and negatively. The article cites multiple studies have linked heightened chances of myriad sicknesses to lack of sleep: the common cold, weight gain, influenza, diabetes, even cancer. Sleep, as it turns out, is as significant as blood pressure and cholesterol level in terms of significance to one’s overall health. In a world where people are obsessed with complex, “quick-fix” solutions to their health problems, it seems something as simple and ubiquitous as sleep can comprehensively improve one’s well being.
These studies corroborate an important, if sometimes ignored, fact: Even if you feel fine on four or five hours or sleep, the body subtly suffers. Over an extended period of time, sleep schedules that consistently fall below seven or eight hours will led to a less effective, less engaged, and less healthy existence. Below is a long video detailing many of the problems with inadequate sleep mentioned in The Times article. Think about that article and this video the next time you’re debating forsaking sleep for a third episode of Parks & Recreation.
”Cheating Ourselves of Sleep,” Jane E. Brody, The New York Times
An avid supporter of Arsenal FC and a recent graduate of Amherst College, Todd Faulkenberry is now a statistic of America’s unemployment rate. When he isn’t curled up in his bed watching a new television drama, you can find Todd feigning productivity at the Barnes & Noble in Spartanburg, South Carolina.