Modern society has little regard for sleep; longer working hours, longer commutes and more shift work have all driven down the amount of time we get between the covers. In fact, over the last hundred years, the amount of daily sleep we get has dropped from nine hours a night to less than seven.

Your mother always told you that a sound night’s sleep is best for a sound body.  And it turns out, she was right. As seen in the documentary, While You Were Sleeping, less time for sleep comes at a steep price to our health and well-being.  Here’s how:

students writing a testBest to get a full nights sleep before writing that test. Photo: iStock

We have trouble learning new things. 
Study after study shows that all people, from babies to adults, who have a full night of sleep perform better on tests and are more easily able to recall things they learned the day before.  The more complex the task that is being learned; the bigger the benefit a full night’s sleep gives.  And sleep has to happen on the night after the task was learned — clear evidence that staying up cramming the night before a test will not help you get a better grade the next day.

We have trouble telling right from wrong. 
Studies show that even one night of sleep loss affects our ability to respond to emotionally engaging moral dilemmas. People take much longer to make decisions— and, in general,  —we become more permissive. These results could be especially important in health care, where workers need to be able to make quick decisions on behalf of their patients.

We become very moody. 
The evidence is clear: sleep deprived people feel more irritable, angry, hostile and depressed. Research suggests that a lack of sleep increases activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain that’s integral to negative emotions. So try not to try on any frustrating tasks or engage in too much social interaction when you’re sleep-deprived.

two men playing video gamesWant to win? Get some sleep. Photo: iStock

We become less aggressive.
Researchers had two groups square off in a video game competition that was rigged to cheat and stimulate aggressive behaviour. The hormone testosterone was measured to assess levels of aggression. Counter to what the scientists expected, the men who did not sleep showed a massive 27% drop in their testosterone levels, while men who had a normal sleep showed higher levels of aggression and had higher levels of testosterone. You’ll need a good night’s sleep to be in full fighting form.

We gain weight. 
Fifty per cent of us aren’t getting enough sleep and 1.5 billion of us are overweight. Researchers at the University of Colorado wondered if there could be a connection. They found that sleep-deprived students snacked a lot more — after just five days of too little sleep, — subjects gained .8 kilograms.

One explanation is that sleep duration affects the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate hunger.  

WEB EXCLUSIVE: How sleep deprivation affects your fat cells.

Could our sleep-deprived lifestyle be contributing to obesity-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes? Want to get your diet off to the best start? In addition to exercise, pay attention to your sleep habits.

We may be setting the stage for Alzheimer’s Disease.  The amino acid, amyloid beta is the main component of the amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer patients. During the day, the amount goes up in our brain and at night the sac of water around the brain empties and clears away the waste particles – including amyloid beta.  While we sleep the brain gets a cleaning rinse — like a dishwasher.  Getting a solid night of shut-eye  is crucial to keeping your brain clean and sharp as you approach old age .

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