Hey there, how did you sleep last night? This might seem like an unusual question, but its significance will soon become clear. We’ve been wanting to write a blog post about sleep ever since we came across a few articles that showed us how detrimental lack of sleep truly is. The articles go into detail on what sleep means for your mental and physical health, as well as what the effects of lack of sleep are. In this post we’ll take a look at why sleep is so important.
Why we need sleep
Dr. Walker, a British scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California says that “If we didn’t need eight hours of sleep and we could survive on six, Mother Nature would have done away with 25 percent of our sleep time millions of years ago because when you think about it, sleep is an idiotic thing to do”. We don’t just sleep because we’re tired, our brain accumulates metabolic toxins throughout the day, which are cleaned at night during deep sleep. If we don’t reach the deep sleep (non-REM) phases during the night, or the phases are disturbed, the toxins build up. One of the toxins is called “beta amyloid”, the leading cause in Alzheimer’s disease.Insufficient sleep appears to be a determining factor in whether you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not like a bank and we can’t use naps to regain lost sleep. If you pull an all-nighter with the premise of being able to sleep as much as you want the next night, you might sleep longer, but only regain 3 to 4 hours of sleep that was lost when you stayed up all night. The reason why we can’t do this is because “Human beings are the only species that deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent reason. Mother nature has never faced the challenge of coming up with a safety net for a lack of sleep”. In other words, we haven’t evolved to survive on a few hours of sleep because a lack of sleep is a recent occurrence.
Effects caused by a lack of sleep
There is a small fraction of the population that have a gene calledDEC2 that allows them to survive on 5 hours of sleep or less. For the masses however, at least 7-9 hours of sleep is recommended each night. As soon as you get below the 7 hour mark, impairments can be measured in the brain. Once you get below 6 hours of sleep, your time to physical exhaustion when engaging in physical activities drops by up to 30%. It doesn’t just stop there, in case you’re a fitness junkie; as you sleep less, your peak muscular strength, vertical jump height and running speed all decrease.
We wish that this is all there is to it, but men who sleep short of 5-6 hours have a testosterone level that is comparable to someone of 10-15 years their senior. Changes in testosterone levels can be measured after just one week of short sleep. After being awake for about 20 hours, you are as physically and cognitively impaired as you would be if you were to be drunk. We think you can imagine the consequences this has on your body and well being.
How sleep aids your studies
According to Dr. Walker, memory sequences that we’ve learned while awake are replayed in our brain at 20x speed during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. To put this into context with musicians, after a good night’s sleep you can come back finding yourself 20-30% better compared to the end of the previous practice session. This explains why musicians have reported not being able to nail a piece of music on the same day, even with hours of practice, but find themselves playing it flawlessly the next day.
Sleep is the greatest (legal) performance enhancing drug
Before sleep, you most likely have gaps or problem points in your motor skill learning. Sleep doesn’t improve places where you’re already good, but sleep is intelligent, it goes in and finds that problem or friction point and smooths it out. This is also where the saying “sleep on it” comes from when dealing with a problem. Before bed the problem is all you can see and all you can think of. Then you wake up the next morning, and you’re feeling better, suddenly you can see past the problem. The explanation for this is that during dream sleep we take all of the information that we have previously learned, and collide it with all the new information to form new connections.Sleep is the greatest legal performance enhancing drug.
We hope you will think twice before pulling an all-nighter and think about the significance of sleep!
Click here to check out a podcast by The Hidden Brain on which Dr. Walker was featured!
Intern at StuDocu, Dutch student of Oriental Languages and Communication majoring in Japanese. Huge interest in Asian culture, specifically Japanese subcultures. You could wake me up anytime for some Kobe Beef!