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Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep


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Published on - 29-Jul-2015 11:26 pm

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Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles. Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can benefit your heart, weight, mind, and more. "Sleep used to be kind of ignored, like parking our car in a garage and picking it up in the morning," says David Rapoport, MD, director of the NYU Sleep Disorders Program. Not anymore. Here are some health benefits researchers have discovered about a good night’s sleep.

Improve memory

Your mind is surprisingly busy while you snooze. During sleep you can strengthen memories or "practice" skills learned while you were awake (it’s 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 Center. "But something happens while you sleep that makes you learn it better."

In other words if you’re trying to learn something new—whether it’s Spanish or a new tennis swing—you’ll perform better after sleeping.

Live longer?

Too much or too little sleep is associated with a shorter lifespan—although it’s not clear if it’s a cause or effect. (Illnesses may affect sleep patterns too.)

In a 2010 study of women ages 50 to 79, more deaths occurred in women who got less than five hours or more than six and a half hours of sleep per night.

Sleep also affects quality of life.

"Many things that we take for granted are affected by sleep," says Raymonde Jean, MD, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. "If you sleep better, you can certainly live better. It’s pretty clear."

Spur creativity

Get a good night’s sleep before getting out the easel and paintbrushes or the pen and paper.

In addition to consolidating memories, or making them stronger, your brain appears to reorganize and restructure them, which may result in more creativity as well.

Researchers at Harvard University and Boston College found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.

Be a winner

If you’re an athlete, there may be one simple way to improve your performance: sleep.

A Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina.

The results of this study reflect previous findings seen in tennis players and swimmers.

Improve your grades

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.

In another study, college students who didn’t get enough sleep had worse grades than those who did.

"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."

Sharpen attention

A lack of sleep can result in ADHD-like symptoms in kids, Dr. Rapoport says.

"Kids don’t react the same way to sleep deprivation as adults do," he adds. "Whereas adults get sleepy, kids tend to get hyperactive."

A 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics found that children ages seven and eight who got less than about eight hours of sleep a night were more likely to be hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive.

"We diagnose and measure sleep by measuring electrical changes in the brain," Dr. Rapoport says. "So not surprisingly how we sleep affects the brain."

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