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The Importance of Sleep

By totaltriguy7 Apr 30, 2013 2578 Words
Michael Stewart
Professor Gazzaniga
College Writing 2
23 October 2012
Sleep is something most people love doing, yet nobody seems to get enough of it. What people are not aware of are the significant benefits a good night’s sleep can have, not only on oneself, but also on the world as a whole. A good night’s sleep not only keeps people healthier, more creative and mentally alert, it’s also a crucial aspect of maintaining a well-rounded functioning society. Sleeping well plays a vital role in peoples lives, with positive effects for society.

The biggest benefit of a good night’s sleep is the effect it has on people’s health. The more sleep people get, the less likely they are to get sick. Lack of sleep is the quickest way to run the human body into the ground. The human body needs a good night’s sleep to recover from the rigorous activities we put ourselves through while we’re awake. Having increased energy during the day, due to a good nights sleep, increases the chances that people will sleep well again the next night. Successful sleeping patterns will eventually lead to an increase in one’s daily energy level, making it vital to practice good sleeping habits as much as possible (Stibich).

The human body’s immune system also reaps the benefits of a good night’s sleep. When people don’t get good night’s sleep on a consistent basis, their body’s ability to fight off sickness decreases significantly. While sleeping, people’s bodies produce extra protein molecules that increase the body’s ability to fight off infections and stay healthy. The extra protein molecules aid people’s immune systems in mending their bodies at a cellular level while stressed or have been exposed to harmful elements such as infectious bacteria and pollutants (Sowder).

Sleep is one of human’s best therapists; the more sleep people get, the less stressed out they’re likely to be. A good night’s sleep helps lower elevated levels of stress hormones, which occur naturally in today’s fast paced lifestyle (Sowder). When people don’t sleep well, they’re much more susceptible to letting things bother them in a negative way. People who sleep well are able to focus on accomplishing their work in a faster, more effective time, without becoming stressed out about it. Without sufficient sleep, people will only harm themselves by allowing their stresses to pile up, becoming worse and worse over time (Sparacino).

Lack of sleep has been linked to inflammation. People who get six or less hours of sleep a night were found to have higher levels of inflammatory proteins opposed to those who slept more. Inflammation has been linked to other diseases such as stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. “People who have sleep apnea or insomnia can have an improvement in blood pressure and inflammation with treatment of the sleep disorders”, says David Rapoport, MD, associate professor and director of the Sleep Medicine Program at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City (“Sleep Deprivation”). Lowering the chances of inflammation make it easier for anyone to enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

Sleep has also recently been linked to weight. Studies have recently proved that people who sleep less tend to weigh more. What links sleep and weight is the hormones the body excretes while sleeping. The two hormones primarily associated with weight and sleeping are leptin and ghrelin. "When you don't get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means you don't feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which means your appetite is stimulated, so you want more food," explains Michael Breus, PhD, a faculty member of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and director of The Sleep Disorders Centers of Southeastern Lung Care in Atlanta (Bouchez). An integral part in maintaining a healthy weight and controlling one’s appetite is getting the right amount of sleep.

Lack of sleep has also been linked to an increased chance in depression. Sleep helps control the release of certain chemicals in the body, one of them being serotonin. Lack of serotonin is often one of the causes of depression. Without sufficient sleep, the body is not able to secrete the proper amount of serotonin into the body, thus decreasing people’s level of the hormone and increasing their likely hood of becoming depressed (Stibich). Sleeping well is one of the best ways to stay clear of depression.

Studies have recently showed that people working the over night shift are at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers. The two main cancers that have stood out have been breast cancer and colon cancer. Researchers believe this link is caused by the increased exposure to light that people who work the overnight shift face. This increased exposure to light causes a decrease in the body’s melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that is believed to protect the human body from cancer (Sowder). This puts anyone who works the overnight shift at a higher risk of developing breast and colon cancer. It is recommended that people keep their rooms dark while sleeping to prevent a decrease in melatonin levels.

Lack of sleep also increases people’s chances in developing diabetes. Lack of sleep often has the same effect on someone as insulin resistance would have. In insulin resistance, cells fail to effectively use glucose for energy, resulting in high blood sugar (Smith). People who don’t sleep as much leave themselves more vulnerable to developing diabetes. People who have diabetes should make sure to sleep well in order to not worsen the condition.

Memory can also be greatly influenced by how much sleep people get. In a process called consolidation, peoples’ brains strengthen memories learned during the day. Lack of sleep results in the inability for the brain to fully retain information, making it harder for people to remember things learned during the day (“Sleep, Learning, and Memory”).

Recently, researches from University of Chicago did some tests on the effect of sleep on memory. The tests, run by Professor Howard Nusbaum, used a synthesizer to distort the words of a speech, making it difficult to understand. Nusbaum then played the distorted speech to three separate groups of students, asking each group to try to decipher what was being said. All these groups were first exposed to the recording at 9 am. The average retention rate for all three groups the first time they heard the speech was 30 percent. Each group was then advised to come back the following morning to re-decipher the speech. On the second attempt, after having a good nights sleep, each group’s retention rate increased an average of 10 percent from the first time the speech was heard. "Sleep might strengthen relevant associations and weaken irrelevant associations, improving access to memories," Nusbaum states (Allen). In other words, sleeping helps our memory decipher what information learned during the day is relevant and what information is pointless. In the case of the students, knowing they had to come back the next morning to re-decipher the same speech turned what they heard into relevant information. Sleeping helps in cleaning up scattered thoughts while also making it easier to remember things possibly forgotten during the day.

People’s bodies reorganizing and restructuring their thoughts while sleeping have recently been linked to an increase in creativity and creative thoughts. Both Boston College and Harvard University have conducted studies that prove that sleeping well helps strengthen the emotional component of people’s memories. The emotional component of people’s memories is what researches believe helps spur creativity (Sparacino). Through sleep, strengthening the emotional component of people’s memories will thus result in an increase in creativity.

One of the most important benefits of sleep for humans is its effect on mental alertness. Sleeping well is the one and only way to prevent drowsiness. Accomplishing tasks is infinitively easier while being well rested as opposed to trying to do something while tired. Sleeping well enables people to remain on top of their work to the best of their abilities. A well-rested employee is going to perform more efficiently in most cases as opposed to a tired employee (“Health Benefits of Sleep”). Being well rested makes it less likely for people to get distracted while working. While sleepy, people are much more prone to procrastinating. Procrastinating significantly increases the amount of time it requires for people to accomplish a given task, making sleepy employees a liability for companies all over the world.

Employees being hit hardest by the negative effects of not sleeping well are those who work the overnight shift, also known as shift workers. Jack, an airport baggage scanner who works the midnight to eight AM shift, gives us some insight on how it feels to be a shift worker. "I'm always a cup of coffee away from joining the rest of society," states Jack (Zamora). While admittedly loving the flexibility created by working the overnight shift, Jack also notes that more often than not during the day he is far less energetic and alert than the normal worker. Jack even admits to nodding off at the wheel at times during the day due to his being a shift worker, putting not only himself in great danger, but also innocent civilians. Jack is among nearly one third of Americans who claim that daytime sleepiness effects their daily activities at least several days a month, according to 2008 poll run by the National Sleep Foundation (Zamora).
This staggering statistic is largely due to the increased volume of work people have been receiving in recent years. More people are bringing work home with them, increasing their workload and giving themselves fewer opportunities to sleep and rest. As for people like Jack, the overnight workers, the future shows little hope of their numbers decreasing. "Our whole society has moved toward a 24/7 kind of economy," says Mark Rosekind, PhD, president and chief scientist of Alertness Solutions, a scientific consulting firm that deals with sleep issues. He says people are now working all the time in retail, banking, information technology, and the media (Zamora). Currently, around twenty million people work the overnight shift in America. Due to societies increasing need for round the clock services and a shift towards a 24/7 economy, this number is only going to continue to rise (Zamora). The number of people in the workforce being affected by lack of sleep is going to be an ongoing issue the United States and the rest of the world is going to have to deal with.

Perhaps the increasing number of workers suffering the effects of lack of sleep has something to do with their sleeping habits from while they were students. College students are amongst the most sleep deprived people in the country, studies show. Often times, students feel the need to stay up late into the night or even all night in order to prepare for an exam or finish work. What students don’t realize is that they may be doing more harm to their GPA than good. Studying is far less effective when the person studying is tired. Once a student starts to feel tired while doing work or studying, their best options are to either take a nap and come back to the work afterwards or go to sleep and finish the work in the morning. "If you’re trying to meet a deadline, you’re willing to sacrifice sleep," Dr. Rapoport says, "but it’s severe and reoccurring sleep deprivation that clearly impairs learning." (Yahalom). Being more awake in class also makes it much easier for students to learn more information at one time. Students who are well rested during class are more capable of retaining the information that they’re learning. Information retention is one of the most crucial aspects of a college student’s life, and without adequate sleep, students are not retaining information to the best of their abilities (Stibich). Sleep also has a profound effect on athletes and people’s athletic abilities. Cheri Mah, a graduate researcher from Stanford, recently ran a study with six basketball players to test the effects of sleep on athletes. The results were staggering. Each one of the athletes ran faster and made more shots over a period of time where they got at least ten hours worth of sleep. "Athletes who get an extra amount of sleep are more likely to improve their performance in a game," says Mah, who released results from an ongoing study in June. "It's not common knowledge, because if people understood how much of a difference (getting more sleep) could make athletically, they'd incorporate it more into their lives and not focus solely on nutrition and exercise.” (Yahalom). A separate Stanford study tested ten football players and yielded similar results. The football players improved their average sprint times, saw a significant decrease in daytime fatigue, and an increased in their stamina (Sparacino). Athletes everywhere should be made more aware of the positive effects of sleeping well on athletics.

Falling into harmful patterns of sleep does not only affect people’s short term-health. Over a lifetime, continued patterns of bad sleep could ultimately result in people’s lives being shorter. As stated previously, sleep has a profound effect on people’s health. Generally, a person who has good sleeping patterns is going to be healthier and more capable of fighting off diseases than a person who does not have good sleeping patterns. If people chronically don’t get enough sleep throughout their lifetime, the chances of them catching a fatal diseases or simply wearing themselves down to the point where they’re a dysfunctional member of society greatly increase. Thus, lack of sleep increases people’s chances of dying at a younger age, unless the sleep issue is figured out before it starts to take permanent effect (Kushida 55). People have yet to fully come to grips with the importance of sleep for themselves. Little do they know, not only is it themselves that sleep is effecting, society as a whole is also greatly affected by sleep.

The more individuals become aware of the positive effects of sleep, the more society as a whole will be able to reap the benefits of sleeping well. Because of sleeps positive benefits to people’s creative abilities, mental capacities, and learning retentiveness, better sleeping patterns for people worldwide would result in an overall smarter society. A smarter society as a whole will increase the rate at which the world could make technological advancements (Sowder). The more breakthroughs in technology humans make, the higher the average standard of life for people worldwide will be. The only way society will be able to fully reap the benefits of sleeping well is if individuals worldwide come to grips with the fact that sleep can greatly increase the quality of people’s lives.

Everyday discoveries are being made that continue to show the positive effects of sleep on both people and society. People everywhere are becoming more and more aware of the positive effects of sleep, but there’s still much work needed to be done. The more people read and hear about the benefits of sleeping well, the more prone they will be to get a good nights sleep. Sleep helps people live a healthier, more creative and mentally alert lifestyle, something most people would love to have. The more individuals who realize these positive effects and begin to sleep well, the faster the world will be able to reap the benefits of a well-rested society.

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