It helps you grow tall. It helps you connect the future and the past. It can even give your memory a 20% boost.
What is it? Sleep.
For a long time we weren’t really sure why we needed to spend a third of our lives lying down with our eyes closed, but researchers are making incredible new discoveries about sleep all the time.
5 Facts About Sleep That Will Make You Rethink How Much You’re Getting
1. It accounts for nearly all of our growth
Anyone who’s raised a teenager knows that they like to sleep. But according to Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., a neuropsychiatrist from Harvard University Medical School, the most recent research has revealed that 80 to 90% of all growth hormone is released while we’re sleeping.
If you watch a puppy sleep, you can often notice his or her cute little legs twitch from time to time. And while sometimes that’s just due to a bad dream, it’s more often a sign that they’re growing.
Just like a puppy, we need our sleep to grow, and if we don’t get enough, we can easily end up shorter than we would’ve been otherwise. That’s why you read about pushing back starting times for high schools.
2. It can supercharge your immune system
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Getting enough rest is perhaps one of the most important things you can do to prevent yourself from getting sick. According to Stickgold, the latest research shows that sleep deprivation can cut the effectiveness of flu vaccines in half. So a good night’s sleep is of tremendous importance, especially during cold and flu season.
3. It Can Instantly Give Your Memory a 20% Boost
Stickgold’s main area of focus is the relationship between memory and sleep. While you’re probably aware that being tired can make it harder to focus, learn, and remember, according to Stickgold, “the night after you learn is at least as important as the night before.”
To prove his theory, he’s conducted a memory study where subjects have to type the same pattern of five letters over and over again. After 30 seconds, most subjects can get 14 sequences right. After 12 minutes of practice, most subjects can typically get 22 sequences right.
But after that, no one really improves much. He’s tried sending them to dinner and allowing them to come back, but subjects don’t do any better given the extra time.
If he lets them sleep on it, however, they do 20% better the following morning. It’s not just practice that makes perfect. “It is practice with sleep.”
4. It Helps Your Brain Rehearse
Have you ever tried to learn a new skill or how to play a piece of music and given up in frustration, only to come back the next day to find that you’ve miraculously gotten better overnight? That happens because your brain practices while you’re asleep.
Matthew Wilson, a neuroscientist from MIT, has discovered that while we sleep our brain is active, going over the events of the day, reactivating memories, reliving the sights and sounds. It’s what we commonly call dreaming and it helps us get better at things.
5. It Makes You More Alert, More Aware, and More Awesome
Plain and simple, getting enough sleep makes your brain work better. According to Stickgold, “it helps us use today what we learned yesterday.” It connects our memories and helps us better understand how the world works.
But Wilson makes the most compelling case for getting more sleep when he says, “when we wake up, we can actually know more, do more, than we could before we went to sleep. We are gaining something, not just strengthening something we already had.”
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