Many studies have shown sleeping on it has benefits. In one study subjects were asked to convert a string of digits into a different string by applying two principles. No one was told about a third secret rule that could provide a shortcut to the answer. One group went to sleep for eight hours following the training. The second group remained awake all night. The third group was trained the next morning and remained awake for eight hours before being re-tested. The group that went to sleep following the training was twice as likely to gain insight and use the secret rule.
We process and stabilize memory during sleep. Different learning occurs at different stages of sleep. We appear to process and consolidate facts during Slow Wave Sleep (SWS). We process more complex and emotionally charged information during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Sleep does more than that. It restores us physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Our biological systems restore themselves during sleep, building physical energy for our next day. A surge in growth hormone, responsible for the maintenance of bone and tissue throughout our lives occurs during SWS which happens early in the sleep cycle.
Subjects who slept four hours a night for six consecutive nights showed a significant impact on their health including lower immune response, higher levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and lower levels of leptin, a hormone that tells us to stop eating. A Harvard study linked sleep deprivation to a number of diseases.
Insomnia and other sleep disorders increase the risk of developing depression. Most patients with depression have insomnia. Insomnia can also be a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder.
People who are sleep-deprived don’t recognize how functionally impaired they are. The idea that we get more done by staying awake is not true. The top violinists and great athletes get more sleep than most of us and have used sleep to improve performance.
The amount of time we need for sleep follows a bell curve; most of us need between seven and nine hours. To get all stages of sleep, we want to have our sleep cycle intact which takes about 90-minutes. However, studies show napping can boost cognitive performance and help us feel alert. One study showed a 10-minute nap to have the best results which lasts up to three hours. Short naps (10- 20 minutes) are preferred because they don’t let us get into SWS which is restorative and makes us feel sleepy. Regular nappers seem to get greater benefit.
Tips for being a better sleeper are familiar. Set a specific sleep schedule. Make your bedroom peaceful and quiet; take screens out and keep the room dark and cool. Wind down before going to bed; have a cup of non-caffeinated tea, read an unexciting book, do deep breathing exercises or progressive relaxation exercises. Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine should be avoided before bedtime. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it metabolizes quickly leading to waking and shallow sleep. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants. Nothing may be as important for our well-being as sleep.