The body clock is an ancient system, common to all life on earth that relies on sunlight and darkness, periods of activity and periods of rest to calibrate itself. Today’s society, with its electric lights, proliferating digital devices, global economy and ‘always on’ mentality, has scrambled our inner timing systems. In short we are living in an age of circadian dysfunction.
Researchers believe that with digital devices and 24/7 lifestyles, that we are messing with our body’s natural rhythms and threatening our very health. Basically, for many people, sleep deprivation has resulted in our natural circadian rhythm being out of sync.
According to Dr. Merrill Miller, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness, and mood." Beyond that, sleep also helps support several aspects of mental health, brain function, and long-term wellness.
There is considerable research around the benefits of eight hours uninterrupted sleep. So what are the benefits?
1. Sleep improves memory. Your mind is very busy while you are asleep. During sleep, your brain can strengthen memories or ‘practise’ skills learned while you were awake through a process called consolidation. "If you are trying to learn something, whether it’s physical or mental, you learn it to a certain point with practice," says Dr. Rapoport, who is an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Centre. "But something happens while you sleep that makes you learn it better."
2. Sleep improves stamina and reduces daytime fatigue. Children between the ages of 10 and 16 who have sleep disordered breathing, which includes snoring, sleep apnea, and other types of interrupted breathing during sleep, are more likely to have problems with attention and learning, according to a 2010 study in the journal Sleep. This could lead to "significant functional impairment at school," the study authors wrote.
3. Sleep encourages greater creativity and sharpens attention. In a letter in Nature in 2010, scientists reported that subjects can solve 30% more anagram word puzzles when they are given the test after waking up from REM sleep than they could after non-REM sleep. More recent research published in 2012 found that sleep is particularly good at helping people solve complex problems.
Science has confirmed that REM sleep helps people be creative. At the University of California at Davis, researchers used a protocol called a Remote Associates Test (RAT) to quantify increases in creativity. They divided test subjects into three groups. One rested but did not sleep, one slept in NREM, and one slept in REM right before taking the test. Those in the waking/rest and NREM groups showed no increased in creativity as measured by RAT, whereas those recently woken from REM sleep showed an increase in capacity.
4. Sleep improves academic results. For students, getting sufficient rest proves important for tests and exams. One larger survey from Belgium showed that university students who got at least seven hours of sleep achieved grades 10 percent higher than those with fewer hours of rest.
5. Sleep helps maintain a healthy body weight. In one recent study conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers, touted as the largest and most-controlled to date, 225 people were subjected to sleep deprivation and their weight and caloric intake was monitored over several days. In the study, participants in the sleep restriction condition gained more weight.
6. Sleep reduces the possibility of depression and lower stress levels. Researchers have known for a while that mental health and sleep quality share connections. Two more recent studies published in the SLEEP journal looked at both adolescents and adult twins to learn more about the connections between sleep and depression, in particular. The twin study found that short sleep duration and long sleep duration significantly increased genetic risk for symptoms of depression. The teen study found that sleep duration of less than six hours per night also increased risk of major depression.
Teenagers need as much sleep as really young children, ten hours each night. Eight hours is okay but ten hours is better. Dr Rapoport says, it’s fine if we miss a little sleep to meet a deadline, but it is severe and reoccurring sleep deprivation that clearly impairs learning.
A good night’s sleep consists of 4 to 5 sleep cycles. Each cycle includes periods of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. It turns out that this pattern of cycling and progression is critical to the biology of sleep.
So what are the tips for getting quality sleep and keeping our circadian rhythm in sync?
· Go to bed the same time each night and get up the same time each morning.
· Sleep in a dark, quiet, cool, comfortable environment – block out light sources.
· Exercise daily but not right before bed – not less than 3 hours beforehand.
· Relax before bedtime – a warm bath or shower, reading or deep breathing.
· Limit the use of electronics and blue screen/light devices before bed.
· Keep mobile phones, chargers and all forms of digital devices out of the bedroom.
· Avoid stimulants such as caffeine late in the day.
Parents, it may be tricky convincing your daughter or son that the benefits of sleep far outweigh the assignment deadlines, but with careful planning and a balance between regular eight hours sleep and forward planning for assessment, co-curricular and school commitments, you will reap rewards in the short and long-term health and wellbeing of your daughter or son. Sleep on it, and see what you think in the morning. J
Sleep is that golden chain thatties health and our bodies together.
1. Benefits of Slumber – NIH News in Health, April 2013. Accessed at:
2. Laber-Warren,E. September/October 2015.Out of Sync. Scientific American Mind.