I wanted to take some time today to discuss the importance of sleep.  With the semester winding down, students are a lot of stress as they study for exams.  And of course the holiday season leads to some restless nights.  Whether you are buying gifts, wrapping gifts, planning a holiday party, or simply watching your favorite Christmas movie, rest often takes a backseat during this time of year.  Aside from the obvious benefits of “recharging the batteries,” I want to delve into the lesser known benefits.

The general recommendation is 7-8 hours a night.  Multiple studies cite this amount of sleep as being most associated with increases in emotional stability, mental functions, and even physiological cycles.  As your body becomes accustomed to a sleeping schedule, it establishes a circadian rhythm.  This 24-hour cycle will assist with your daily tasks by increasing energy and appetite to coordinate with your day.  Once you reach the recommended 7-8 hours and you have an established schedule, you can start to reap the benefits.

A good night of sleep will increase emotional stability.  Decreased levels of depression and stress are often cited in research.  A looming test or deadline can increase feelings of stress, leading to a cascade of events that raise blood pressure, appetite, and even cholesterol levels. This stress can result in depression if the aforementioned tasks aren’t handled optimally.  Sleep allows a person to clear their mind of stress and return to a rested state.  Continually worrying about a task without taking action has serious health risks.  Sometimes it’s simply better to go to sleep and face the task head-on when you’re more focused and ready to find a solution.

Mental function is improved with sleep via increased memory, focus and attention.  Memory is improved in a process called consolidation whereby you “practice” recently learned skills during sleep.  This helps to increase short-term memory and can improve function of these actions.   As your brain reorganizes and formulates memories during sleep, it may even spur creativity.  Researchers at Boston College found that the creativity process is improved because sleep helps to strengthen the emotional component of a memory.  For this reason, artists and musicians are more creative when they get a good night’s rest.  Studies also show that sleep deprivation leads to an increase in ADHD-like behaviors of hyperactivity and impulsiveness in children.  The focused attention will improve function at work and school, leading to better grades and even preventing less desirable accidents.

As noted earlier with increased appetite, sleep can be your best ally if you are on a diet.  Research from the University of Chicago shows that people who were well rested lost a higher percentage of fat (56%) compared to others who lost more muscle mass.  It should be noted that sleep and metabolism are controlled in the same sectors of the brain.  The link is undeniable.

Now that I have shed some light on this issue, you need to shut the lights earlier.  Happy holidays and best of luck to our students during exams.

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