It's weird that we sometimes think we can go without sleep--since we'd be so much more productive with just a bit more.
The BBC's Michael Mosley reports that increasing the quanitity of time spent slumbering by a mere hour can upgrade the quality of your sleep. This, in turn, upgrades the quality of your day--in at least three ways.
One of the first phases of sleep is deep sleep, which, as Mosley reports, is a super active time:
Deep sleep sounds restful, but that's when our brains are actually working hard. One of the main things the brain is doing is moving memories from short-term storage into long-term storage, allowing us more short-term memory space for the next day. If you don't get adequate deep sleep then these memories will be lost.
Which is scary because memories are important. And what we must note here is that there is such a thing as banking sleep--where you get a ton of sleep for a few nights if you know you won't get any sleep on another night--you can't bank you memories. They need to be committed within 24 hours of forming.
After deep sleep you enter into rapid-eye-movement, or REM. Here your body is paralyzed (don't worry, it's a good thing) and your eyes dart back and forth. This peculiar situation allows for amazing processes to happen--your brain does a little bit of chemical hygiene.
For instance, in the form of shutting off noradrenalin, one of the so-called "fight-or-flight" chemicals released to deal with stressful situations. As Mosley says, REM is the only time--day or night--where this shutoff happens. That shutoff, he says, lets us keep calm while we reprocess our experiences while we sleep, which makes for a less-anxious waking the next day.
Let's get technical for a second. So we all have DNA, which holds and transmits our genetic information.
Our genes are dynamic, not static. The way the genetic code lying in your genes gets interpreted depends on gene expression--the way certain genes get switched on or off, depending on the conditions of your life. If your body is getting lots of information saying that it needs to work hard to survive, the stress-response genes get expressed. This is good if you're on a hunt, but over time, those fighting chemicals can become toxic. Then, in contrast, there's the effects of calm meditation helps your genes express themselves more happily, and so does sleep.
For example, as part of the BBC piece, Dr. Simon Archer at Surrey University in the U.K. asked groups of volunteers to switch their sleep schedules: If they got 7.5 hours a night, they instead would take 6.5, if they got 6.5, they took 7.5.
As Mosley reports, the results were expressive:
We found that overall there were around 500 genes that were affected," Archer explained. "Some which were going up, and some which were going down."
What they discovered is that when the volunteers cut back from seven-and-a-half to six-and-a-half hours' sleep a night, genes that are associated with processes like inflammation, immune response, and response to stress became more active. The team also saw increases in the activity of genes associated with diabetes and risk of cancer. The reverse happened when the volunteers added an hour of sleep.
The lesson here? If we want to remember anything, de-stress, and make our genes happy (which will make us healthier), we should master our sleep schedules.
Hat tip: BBC
[Image: Flickr user Nicola Romagna]