Science Says, “Go Ahead, Turn in Early Tonight”

Sleep. It's no big deal, we can sleep when we're dead! Or, at least that's what we tell ourselves as we are staying up too late to watch TV night after night. But, not getting enough sleep is about more than just feeling a little groggy in the morning.

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It’s no big deal to stay up a little later at night than normal, we figure we won’t miss the sleep or that we can just go to bed a little earlier the next night and “make it up” but the truth of the matter is that it’s a pretty big deal to our bodies. Adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night, and many need nine or more. Whether it’s a night out partying or you just couldn’t make yourself shut down Facebook that lack of sleep is costing you.

Let’s take a look at a few reasons why keeping that regular bedtime is a good idea.

1. Sleep improves memory and learning.

REM sleep is especially important for learning and memory consolidation; without it you’ll find that your memory becomes impaired and learning suffers. Babies get the highest amount of REM sleep and the amount decreases as we age, but no matter our age, REM sleep is important and necessary. You typically get most of your REM sleep early in the morning, which means that the less sleep you get, the less REM sleep you get and the more likely you are to see decreased memory and ability to learn. If this isn’t a good reason to get to bed early, I don’t know what is.

2. Sleep decreases your risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the body about two hours before bedtime, and studies have indicated that this hormone may decrease estrogen levels which may not only decrease the risk of certain cancers (including breast cancer) but may also help prevent or reduce endometriosis. Regular secretion of melatonin relies on a regular bedtime making it important to stick to a regular sleep schedule. And, guys don’t think this is just about women. Not getting enough sleep also decreases the number of natural killer cells (the cells that fight off cancer) in your body, which increases your risk for all types of cancer.

Lack of sleep has also recently been linked to Alzheimer’s disease as at best an early warning sign. Because deep sleep is important for memory consolidation and learning it’s possible that a lack of sleep over time may actually cause Alzheimer’s disease.

3. Sleep improves your immune system.

Your immune system needs sleep. It’s no coincidence that when you are sick you sleep more it’s because sleep is your body’s way of healing. Slow wave sleep is necessary for healing and tissue repair, so it makes sense that not getting enough sleep would decrease your immune system and your body’s ability to heal itself. In an interview with Mother Jones, sleep psychologist Matt Walker pointed out that getting just four hours of sleep for one night, impairs your immune system function by about 70 percent. Get some rest!

4. Sleep aids in healing. I’ve already addressed that sleep improves your immune system but that’s not the only way that it helps with healing. Slow wave sleep is important for helping the body rejuvenate and heal. This is delta wave sleep which is most evident early in the evening, but it does continue throughout the night. As we age we get less and less slow wave deep sleep, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important and the fact that we are getting less of it as we age is a good reason why it’s more important to ensure we get a full night’s sleep every night.

5. Sleep keeps you young and keeps the weight off.

A sleep-debt study of 11 men found that getting four hours of sleep for just six nights impairs the ability to metabolize carbohydrates and messes up endocrine function. The researchers said that these findings were not much different than what you see in general aging, however what it indicates is that not getting enough sleep speeds up the problems you typically see with age.

This impaired ability to metabolize carbs (if you haven’t guessed) doesn’t help your waistline. So, getting a good night’s sleep could definitely help you keep the weight off, or lose it, if that’s your goal.

While one late night probably isn’t too big of a deal, continually staying up too late, or not maintaining a regular bedtime schedule can wreak havoc on your body, leading to everything from anxiety, depression, irritability, impaired concentration to weight gain, and even increased risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Given the trade-off I think sticking to a regular sleep schedule of seven or more hours a night is probably the better choice, don’t you?


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