The Good Science Behind Sleep

a sleeping couple for dr wensleys blog post on sleep

Sleep is more than the blessing that accompanies a rare nap or the nightly hunker-down - it’s a crucial element of life.
Researchers have pondered for years why we must spend a third of our lives behind closed eyelids, and have come up blank every time. The constant induction of unconsciousness has shown to improve mood, memory, hunger and overall health. While these things may seem like answers, to researchers they are merely byproducts of a larger idea; but since they’re all we have right now, why not start there?
The stages of sleep are well known to us. We know that there are two “types” of sleep: NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement), and that our body undergoes sleep “cycles” throughout the duration of our unconsciousness. However, what these stages and types of sleep do specifically is a topic for debate; albeit researchers have documented that the body does reap benefits from them. One such perk is the increased production of antibodies and hormones. Researchers have noted that even as little as one sleepless night (or one night of good sleep) can interfere with the body’s immune and endocrine system, for better or worse respectively. Studies performed on young men who were restricted to four hours of sleep a night showed that their ability to clear glucose from the blood was reduced by forty percent. In another study, researchers found that limited sleep spiked the production of ghrelin - an appetite-inducing hormone - while a different hormone known as leptin (which inhibits hunger by telling the body there’s no need to eat) decreased by eighteen percent. Whether as an outside factor or one directly related with a lack of sleep/spike in hunger, the hypothesis that reduced sleep could lead to weight gain is now widely supported by many studies.
Although there are many health benefits to be sought from a good night’s sleep, some of the most remarkable ones are found on a neurological level. We’ve seen how much even a single night of sleep (or lack thereof) can impact a body, but remarkably it is something that we can also feel as well. Sleep-deprived people have been said to show a proneness to recalling/inducing negative emotions, while their better rested counterparts were seen to be happier overall. An experiment conducted in 2006 used three “categories” or words: positive, negative and neutral (things unassociated with emotions, happy or otherwise). The results were astounding; compared to the well-slept subjects, those who were sleep deprived showed a forty percent reduction in memory, accompanied by a fifty percent decrease in their ability to recognize positive and neutral words. This has led scientists to believe that, while sleep-deprived, you are twice as likely to commit negative things to memory. Although horrifying, sleep deprivation has been said to have the power to induce major, clinical depression and other psychiatric disorders.
Tedious as it may be to sleep one third of your life away, the benefits are long-lasting and impact our day-to-day life more than we realize; and what better time to try and rewire our internal clock than autumn? Enjoy a good night’s sleep tonight to better enjoy the next morning and the world of difference that follows. As always, consult your health physician before making any big changes to your lifestyle!