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The Importance Of Sleep For Health

The Importance Of Sleep For Health

The French Paradox is an interesting thing. It’s where the French, despite doing things that we would consider bad for our health, such as smoking, eating fatty foods and drinking plenty of alcohol, they have lower rates of heart disease than people from English speaking countries.

Having  stayed in Paris on a couple of occasions, I  have noticed one thing. The French have a tendency to work to live rather than living to work. Walking around Paris on a Saturday morning is a rather eerie affair, because it appears that everyone is sleeping in.

While I’m not saying that is all there is to the reason behind the heart disease discrepancy, I would say it is part of the puzzle.

Anyone who has read my some of my scrawlings would  have realised that one of my pet peeves is the heroic work ethic we have in the Anglosphere.  People are literally working themselves to death. I have heard it said that people such as emergency services workers and nurses who work rotating shifts shorten their lives by up to 10 years due to their shift patterns. Lucky they’re getting penalty rates! But clearly the extra money could never compensate for such a horrible cost.

I have seen the badge of courage approach before, where people proudly proclaim (in front of their boss of course) that they were working on the project until 1:30am. Similarly, it is a rite of passage to cram all night for exams.  It’s almost expected.

Well you know something? People doing this  are idiots. But please, allow me to explain.  This is not just the rantings of some opinionated dickhead on the internet. This is actually backed up by science.

Researchers have been doing studies and found that sleep is essential for memory. The brain uses the time we sleep to consolidate the things we have learned that day in our memories.

So if you’re in the situation where you’re cramming for an exam that is the next day, and you’ve decided that you can go all night, get a couple of hours sleep around 5am, and then off to the exam, you are not doing yourself any good. You are in fact doing yourself harm. You don’t learn more if you are trying to learn when the brain is tired.

Your retention of information drops to pretty much zero. So why bother doing it if it’s counter productive? Because that’s what everyone else is doing? Is that really ever a good justification for anything?

You can just not think for yourself if you want for your entire life. Just follow the examples of others all the time if you want. However, if you do that, you end up doing a lot of wasteful stuff while believing that what you’re doing is of value.

A lot of people do stuff a certain way because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. By that rationale we would still be nomadic hunter gatherers.

What you need to do with anything you do is ask yourself, “Is the the best way to do what I’m doing?” When it comes to work and study, working beyond the point of fatigue is certainly not and this is backed up by scientific evidence.

For example, researchers tested people’s memory of a maze. They found that those who had a nap after going through the maze performed better remembering the maze than those who didn’t. And those who actually dreamt about the maze during their nap performed 10 times better than people who hadn’t slept.

So we have established that sleep is important for memories. However there is another, even more important reason for not staying up working to 1:30am. The brain flushes itself out during sleep.

This is the reason why mental functioning gets impaired when we get tired. Throughout the day beta-amyloids accumulate in the brain, gradually decreasing the  brain’s performance. When we sleep, the brain flushes out beta-amyloids.

Now if the brain doesn’t flush those beta-amyloids, due to not enough sleep or poor quality sleep, to my understanding what happens is that beta-amyloid plaques accumulate in the brain. The current thinking is that is this accumulation of these plaques are what causes Alzheimer’s disease.

Let that sink in for a moment. What this says is those times when you stay up late because you want to suck up to your boss, there may be a horrible consequence later in life. Grow a spine and learn to say no to your boss is my advice.

Sleep is not optional. Sleep is not something you can cut back on because there is so much you want to do. Sleeping is not wasted time. It is something that is essential for your health and rather than detracting from your life it is life enhancing.

So rather than cutting out sleep to make space for all the things you want to do, perhaps it’s time to do less or find out how to take less time doing the things you are doing now.

Image Source: rachel CALAMUSA (It’s time to sleep  Uploaded by xiaphias) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

About The Author

Shaun

A guy obsessed with stripping down whatever field he studies to get the optimum return from effort expended. Sort of like Tim Ferriss, except with zero fame.

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