Monday, April 11, 2005

Sleep On It

We live in a sleep macho society. People brag that they can get by with six, five or even fewer hours of sleep. That may be true, but these people are also more likely to develop heart disease... crave sugar and so gain weight... lack creative problem-solving abilities... and are as likely to crash a car as someone who is legally drunk. "Adequate sleep is every bit as important for well-being as nutrition and exercise, but too many people who take care of themselves in other ways ignore their need for quality sleep," says James B. Maas, PhD, author of Power Sleep (Quill) and professor of psychology at Cornell University. He says that one-third of all Americans get six hours of sleep or fewer each night. Individual sleep needs range from seven to nine-and-a-half hours, with eight usually considered the magic number. What counts most is the final hour of rapid eye movement or REM sleep, says Dr. Maas. "Between the seventh and eighth hour is when most people get almost an hour of REM sleep. This is when the mind repairs itself, grows new connections and manipulates all the information we've put into storage," he says. Without it, our brains simply do not work well. "You may feel like you're giving yourself more hours for productivity when you stay up late working. But in reality, a tired brain takes longer to perform basic tasks and is more likely to make mistakes, so you would do better work in less time if you simply turned in for the night, and started fresh tomorrow," says Dr. Maas.
A few other benefits of a good night's rest...
*A healthy heart. Too little sleep increases levels of stress hormones that can elevate blood pressure and tax the heart. A 2003 Harvard study found that women sleeping for five hours or less a night were 39% more likely to develop heart disease than those sleeping eight hours.
*Trimmer waistline. Sleep deprivation lowers levels of leptin, a blood protein that suppresses appetite and tells the brain when you've had enough to eat. The result: Less sleep equals more fat. In a Columbia University study of more than 18,000 people, those who slept less than four hours a night were 73% more likely to be obese than those who got the suggested seven to nine hours of rest. Further evidence of the direct connection between pillow time and your waistline -- researchers found that those who averaged five hours a night had a 50% greater risk of obesity and those slumbering for six hours had a 23% greater risk.
*Better memory. Biochemical studies of the brain show that memories are restructured before they are stored -- a process that happens during deep sleep. Some experts believe that memory failings associated with aging actually are the result of inadequate sleep, since older adults often have trouble falling and staying asleep.
*Safer driving. Roughly 100,000 automobile crashes occur each year because drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Stanford researchers report that people who are tired because of disrupted sleep perform as poorly on reaction-time tests as those who are legally drunk.
*Sharper decision-making. Investigations show that the space shuttle Challenger tragedy and the Exxon Valdez oil spill can be linked to sleep deprivation and fatigue in the captains and scientists. Inadequate sleep reduces attention and decision-making ability by 50%.
Make the smart decision to get more sleep tonight for better mental and physical health tomorrow. If you already get eight hours and you still wake up tired, aim for even more.


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