The Power of Sleep

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THE MOST IMPORTANT PILLAR OF HEALTH

In our society people take pride in their ability to function well on the least amount of sleep possible. Adults talk about sleep similar to teenagers lifting weights at the gym. Lifting heavier weights increased your status in high school, while needing less sleep is a bragging right as an adult.

Over the last 20 years there have been huge breakthroughs in the way we are able to study the human brain. Perhaps the most important finding is the role of sleep in maintaining good brain and body health. Many neuroscientists in the field feel that sleep is in fact the most important pillar of health.

A SLEEP LOSS EPIDEMIC

It should be no surprise then, that recently the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a sleep loss epidemic throughout industrialized nations. And it’s no coincidence that countries where sleep time has declined most dramatically over the past century, such as the US, the UK, Japan, and South Korea, and several in western Europe, are also the ones suffering the greatest increase in rates of the chronic diseases and mental disorders.

Matthew Walker, a world renown sleep scientist, better known as the “Sleep Diplomat” has made it his mission to share his 20+ years of sleep science with the world. He is a major player in the field and it’s his research that is making change. The findings are staggering.

SLEEP BY THE NUMBERS

  • Two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended 8 hours of nightly sleep.

  • Routinely sleeping less than 6 or 7 hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.

  • Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just 1 week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic.

  • Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure.

  • Sleep disruption further contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality.

  • Too little sleep swells concentrations of a hormone that makes you feel hungry while suppressing a companion hormone that otherwise signals food satisfaction.

  • Worse, should you attempt to diet but don’t get enough sleep while doing so, it is futile, since most of the weight you lose will come from lean body mass, not fat.

  • Sadly, human beings are in fact the only species that will deliberately deprive themselves of sleep without legitimate gain.

  • Tragically, one person dies in a traffic accident every hour in the United States due to a fatigue-related error.

  • Vehicular accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.

BIGGEST MISTAKE EVOLUTION EVER MADE

If these don’t change your mind about sleep I’ll leave you with a quote from Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” that really stuck with me.

“No matter what vantage point you take, sleep would appear to be the most foolish of biological phenomena. When you are asleep, you cannot gather food. You cannot socialize. You cannot find a mate and reproduce. You cannot nurture or protect your offspring. Worse still, sleep leaves you vulnerable to predation. Sleep is surely one of the most puzzling of all human behaviors. On any one of these grounds—never mind all of them in combination—there ought to have been a strong evolutionary pressure to prevent the emergence of sleep or anything remotely like it. As one sleep scientist has said, “If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made.”

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