The evolution of sleep

My friend Miriam recently sent me this Inquiring Minds episode on sleep. Did you know that, just 100 years ago, adults regularly got 9.25 hours of sleep per night on average?

“Lack of sleep” and “being tired” are more serious than they sound. 8 hours a night seems to be the sweet spot (most people seem to know this), but did you know that if you get less than 7, there are biological consequences?  Insufficient sleep has been found to be associated with an increased risk of:

  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depletion of immune function, linked to malignancy cancer

“The link between lack of sleep and cancer is now so strong that the World Health Organization, a couple years ago, decided to classify shift work as a possible carcinogen.” – Matt Walker

Okay, some good stuff now – sleep does three things for learning:

  • Sleep the night before a day of learning seems to restore the ability of the brain to absorb new information
  • Sleep after learning also cements in the new knowledge
  • R.E.M. sleep takes all the new things you’ve been learning and builds webs of association, testing connections and taking memories further .. and this does have the ability to move your knowledge to wisdom as new things are realized

So that is pretty cool.

There’s been a lot of recent research on sleep, and much more of it is covered with Matt Walker, Principal Investigator at UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, in the linked episode. Pretty good listen …may even change your life.

Do you get enough sleep?

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