Can an extra hour’s sleep make a difference?

© Jamie Grill/Tetra Images/Corbis

We all love to sleep, but just how important is it for our health?

Growing up I quickly learnt that sleep is one of those things that becomes rarer and more aperiodic with age. Sometimes life gets in the way of a proper night’s sleep so much that if this were a fair world, we’d be able to use them as currency – a Birkin for 10 good nights’ sleep, that’s how much the currency exchange should be in my opinion. Yet it’s recently come to light that there is actually more to sleeping than simply resting.

When we’re asleep, our brains go through various stages including deep sleep, during which our brain moves new memories from our short-term to our long-term memory banks; and REM, during which the stress-related hormone, noradrenaline, is switched off and our brain goes through the day’s happenings and helps bring us emotional closure. If any of these stages of sleep are disrupted we can permanently lose memories or feel moody all day, but what’s even more startling are the physical implications that lack of sleep might have.

Recent research conducted by the University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre had seven volunteers, all of whom normally slept six to nine hours a night, split into two groups, with the first group asked to sleep six and a half hours a night for a week and the second group, seven and a half. Once the week was over, blood samples of all seven volunteers were taken and the process was repeated with the groups swapping sleeping-time. The results were mind-numbing.

An extra hour’s sleep a night saw 500 genes increasing or decreasing in the bloodstream – some of which could be vital for survival. In fact, the volunteers who had to cut back on one hour’s sleep in the second week had genes associated with processes like immune response, inflammation, response to stress, diabetes and risk of cancer become more active – while an extra hour reversed the process.

What does all this boil down to then? Well, that sleep is as important as food and air if we want to be happy and healthy. So next time you’re wondering whether you should go out on a week night… just call in sick!

What do you think of this study? Anything you’d like to add?

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