Do you want to live a longer life? Go to sleep then!

We all know how important sleep is, but do we actually know how much the lack of sleep can influence our lives? Matt Walker, a brain scientist, conducted a study in order to prove the benefits of sleeping and the consequences of sleep deprivation.

In the past, it had already been proven that we need sleep after learning, as it helps memorising information; but recently, it has been discovered that we need sleep before learning, in order to prepare our brain to acquire new data.

Walker took a sample of individuals who were used to sleeping 8 hours per night and divided them into two groups: for just one night, the first group would still sleep 8 hours as normal, while the second was not allowed to sleep and had to avoid caffeine. The morning afterwards, both groups had their brains scanned while trying to learn new facts, and the MRI showed a 40% deficit in the ability of the sleep deprivation group to assimilate new information. Thus, the resulting effect of sleep deprivation is the fact that our memory shuts down.

Scientists have finally managed to find a link between dementia and sleep deprivation: as we get older, our memory worsens, but this is also influenced by the fact that we usually do not get the right amount of sleep. Not sleeping enough therefore increases the chances of suffering from Alzheimer.

But not sleeping enough doesn’t simply influence our mind; studies have proven how it affects our body and genes too.

When talking about our body, Walker tells us that our cardiovascular and reproductive systems are more at risk if we have bad sleeping habits. Let’s start by saying that we all have natural killer cells (the immune cells), which identify and eliminate dangerous and unwanted elements, such as cancerous masses for instance. We obviously need a lot of these natural killer cells, but do you know what happens when you don’t get enough sleep? Just by reducing for one single night the sleeping hours from 8 to 4, studies have shown how these immune cells activity decreases by 70%, and therefore leads to immune deficiency. The consequence is a greater chance of developing bowel, breast or prostate cancer. 

Moving on to the DNA, another experiment was conducted on healthy adults who got their sleeping hours reduced from 8 to 6 per night, for one entire week, and this revealed critical findings. The first thing that scientists noticed was that 711 genes were distorted and half of them had increased their activity, while the other half had decreased it. Can you guess which were the switched-off genes? Those associated with the immune system, which meant that these individuals were going towards immune deficiency; while the genes that had increased their activity were the ones connected with the production of tumours, inflammation and stress (which can lead to cardiovascular diseases).

If you think about it, our species is the only one that voluntarily deprives itself of sleep, but there is nothing healthy in doing it. The saying “you can sleep when you’re dead” couldn’t be more wrong. Sleeping is our life support system and many of us need to improve the quality and quantity of it.

If you think about it, what is happening in our society is that we are sacrificing sleep in order to keep up with the industrialised society habits, but we need to turn sleeping into a priority if we want to lead a better and longer life.

Walker finally gives a couple of tips on how to improve our sleep: it’s important to keep it regular (if you go to bed and wake up always  at the same time, you won’t only improve the quantity but also the quality of your sleep), and to keep it cool (the body needs to decrease its temperature in order to fall asleep).

This information comes from the TedTalk Walker gave last year, and if you’re interested in hearing the full speech, click this link right here:

Autor: Marzia Chilese /