To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question…..

We all can agree that sleep is important to our overall health.  We have learned through countless medical and scientific studies how sleep, or the lack thereof, affects us physically and emotionally.  Some have even studied how sleep affects memory.  From the Harvard based Nurses’ Health Study, we have learned that too little and too much sleep can affect our maintenance of memory later in life. Highlights from this study were discussed on Harvard Health Publications last year (LeWine, M.D., 2014)

Scientists are noticing a correlation between getting two hours less/more than the average recommendation is affecting brain processes.  Sleep deprivation is known to cause problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and narrowing of blood vessels.  These are obvious problems, considering the brain requires oxygen and sugar to function properly.  And sleeping two hours more than one should results in “poor sleep quality” (LeWine, M.D., 2014).

Another view on sleep’s effects on memory poses that the offline reprocessing of memories during sleep is integral to their development and consolidation (Stickgold, 2005).  Stickgold discusses several clinical considerations relating to sleep deprivation, among which are psychiatric disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.  Another tidbit to consider regarding sleep, is that we humans perform various and manifold complex tasks, physically and mentally.  Stickgold also suggests that “sleep contributes to the consolidation of uniquely human, complex cognitive procedural learning” (Stickgold, 2005).

a, Tower of Hanoi task. Subjects must move one disk at a time, from one pole to another. Disks can be placed only on empty poles or on disks of larger diameter. The goal is to move all the disks to the right-hand pole in the fewest number of moves. For n disks, the optimal score is 2n−1 moves. b, Mathematical insight. The standard algorithm: subjects are taught a standard algorithm for reducing an eight-digit sequence to a final answer (the bold, italic ‘9’ at the right), through six intermediate calculations. The ‘insight’ algorithm: the design of the task is such that the last three calculations form a mirror image of the preceding three, so that the second intermediate calculation always matches the final answer. Right, subjects allowed to sleep between the training and retest showed significantly higher rates of insight compared with those not allowed sleep. Reproduced from refs 49, 50. (Stickgold, 2005)

a, Tower of Hanoi task. Subjects must move one disk at a time, from one pole to another. Disks can be placed only on empty poles or on disks of larger diameter. The goal is to move all the disks to the right-hand pole in the fewest number of moves. For n disks, the optimal score is 2n−1 moves. b, Mathematical insight. The standard algorithm: subjects are taught a standard algorithm for reducing an eight-digit sequence to a final answer (the bold, italic ‘9’ at the right), through six intermediate calculations. The ‘insight’ algorithm: the design of the task is such that the last three calculations form a mirror image of the preceding three, so that the second intermediate calculation always matches the final answer. Right, subjects allowed to sleep between the training and retest showed significantly higher rates of insight compared with those not allowed sleep. Reproduced from refs 49, 50. (Stickgold, 2005)

So, the question: …. Sleep.  But sleep 7 to 8 hours per day on average.  More and less are not advised.  There is a multitude of reliable information available to regular folks like you and me, in case you would like to learn more. Some links are provided here for your perusal.

Links:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/little-sleep-much-affect-memory-201405027136

http://www.nature.com/

http://www.sleephealthjournal.org/

References:

LeWine, M.D., H. (2014, May 2). Harvard Health Blog. Retrieved from Harvard Health Publications: http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/little-sleep-much-affect-memory-201405027136

Stickgold, R. (2005, October 27). Sleep-dependent memory consolidation. Nature, 1282-1278. Retrieved July 28, 2015

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