Getting a good amount of sleep per night gives us a big advantage in life, but many people just aren’t aware of all the benefits sleep provides. With this in mind, by reviewing the very latest in sleep research, here are the top 10 surprising benefits of sleep.
1. Sleep makes you more attractive
Getting a good night’s sleep makes you look more attractive and makes other people more likely to want to socialize with you.
Researches from Sweden took two sets of photographs of 25 people, one set after two nights of 8 hours sleep, and another set of photographs after two nights of just 4 hours sleep. A group of 40 people were then brought in and asked to rate the people in the photos based on their level of attractiveness.
The same people were rated as less attractive when they had 4 hours sleep, and more attractive when they had 8 hours sleep. Additionally, the group said they were more likely to socialize with the people in the photos who had more sleep, than the ones who had less sleep.
It follows from a similar study that found people who had less sleep were judged to look less healthy and less attractive.
Both findings conclude that our perceived levels of attractiveness are in some way directly linked to how well we sleep at night. It seems that beauty sleep is a real thing after all.
2. Sleep helps you solve hard problems
If you have a hard problem to solve, getting a good night’s sleep will help you come up with the answer.
27 men and 34 women were divided into 3 groups as part of a study by Lancaster University. Each group had a series of easy and difficult problems to solve. One group had to answer the questions immediately, another group was given some time to go away and think about the answers, and the third group was told to go to bed and come up with the solution in the morning.
Out of the 3 groups, the one that went to bed solved the greatest number of problems. But interestingly, they solved the same number of easy problems as the other groups, but solved a greater number of the difficult problems.
The reason for this is that sleep helps us access information buried deep in the subconscious mind, so the brain is able to access more data in an attempt to solve the problem than it would have otherwise been able to if it was awake.
A study from the University of California discovered that it’s REM sleep that provides much of this added problem solving capability. Researchers found that REM sleep is the best state for creative processing, boosting problem solving ability by almost 40%.
3. Sleep helps you lose weight and stay healthy
Sleep helps you lose weight by making you feel less hungry, more full after meals, helping you burn off more calories during the day.
A study in Sweden recorded the waist measurements and the number of hours slept per night from a group of 6500 women aged 20 onwards. Through this data, scientists saw a direct connection between the waist size and number of hours they slept. They concluded that people who slept too little were much heavier than those who slept seven or more hours per night and had a much higher risk of becoming overweight.
A similar study performed at Columbia University concluded that people who slept only 5 hours per night were 50% more likely to be overweight than those who slept the recommended 7 to 8 hours.
So why is this? People with a lack of sleep have higher levels of ghrelin, known as the hunger hormone, and lover levels of leptin, a signal that tells your brain you’re full. The imbalance of these hormones means you’ll feel more hungry and less full after a meal. But what’s more is that you’ll also burn off less of the food you eat. Research in Germany found that people with a lack of sleep burnt 20% less calories than those who slept well.
4. Sleep makes you better at sport
Sleep boosts sport performance and keeps you playing your sport for longer.
Researchers studying the sleeping habits of college baseball players found that many of them were sleep deprived. By improving their average time spent asleep to a healthy 8.5 hours, the researchers recorded improvements to their running speed, accuracy and reaction times. Players reported that they felt happier and felt more energetic.
Studies of pro NFL and pro baseball players show that players who have a lower level of daytime sleepiness are more likely to be kept on and retained by the team, and those with higher levels are more likely to drop out.
Sleep also keeps you injury free. Researchers from Los Angeles studied the sleep and activity levels of 112 student athletes and found that hours of sleep per night were “significantly associated” with a decreased risk of injury.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are studies in a huge range of sports, such as swimming, tennis and basketball, that conclude the more sleep you get, the better you’ll perform.
5. Sleep saves lives
Getting enough sleep could potentially save many lives.
When you experience a severe lack of sleep, parts of your brain start going offline. This means that although you appear to be awake, a portion of your brain is fast asleep. This affects your judgment, decision making skills and makes you feel more stressed and impatient. Additionally, people often don’t notice their own drop in performance.
This can have huge consequences while driving, and the more sleepy you feel, the greater chance you have of microsleep where the part of your brain responsible for awareness goes temporarily offline for a few seconds. If you’re driving at 70mph when this happens, your car will travel 200 meters in just six seconds. That’s more than enough distance to cross over to another lane, go into the back of someone, or go through a red traffic light. Multiple studies show that at least 10% of us admit to having briefly fallen asleep at the wheel.
Some of the most devastating man made disasters have in some way been caused by a lack of sleep, including Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez oil spill, space shuttle Challenger explosion, and the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster.
All this can be prevented just by getting enough sleep.
6. Sleep saves the economy billions each year
Getting better sleep can save the US economy $93 billion per year.
A huge study involving 10,094 Americans was carried out to look into the effects of insomnia in the workplace, the largest study of its kind. Each person was surveyed on their sleep habits and about the accidents they had at work.
The study found that insomnia made people twice as likely to have an accident, and that between 10% to 15% of workplace accidents were caused by insomnia. The cost of these accidents? $31 billion, per year, for the US alone. Understandably, the authors of the study recommended that employers screen their employees for insomnia as a way to save money.
But that’s not all. Insomnia makes us more prone to accidents, but what about our productivity? Researchers from Harvard Medical School surveyed 7,428 American workers to find an answer. They found that tiredness cost their employers around 8 days of work per year. The cost of those lost days calculates to an astonishing $63 billion in lost revenue for the US each year.
7. Sleep keeps you healthy and helps you live longer
Multiple studies show that sleep staves off a variety of medical conditions, including cancer, with two landmark studies concluding that getting a good amount of sleep each night actually help us live longer.
A joint study by the University of Warwick and University College London surveyed 10,308 civil servants on their sleep habits, once in 1985 and once in 1992. The researchers then compared this data to the subsequent mortality rates. They found that those who had cut their sleep from 7 hours to 5 hours or less faced a 1.7 fold increased risk of mortality, and were twice as likely to die from a cardiovascular problem.
The results were intriguing enough to prompt a follow up study, this time between the University of Warwick and University Medical School in Italy. The researchers reviewed a series of 16 studies from around the world, featuring a combined total of 1.3 million participants followed up for up to 25 years. They found that people who sleep for less than 6 hours per night were 12% more likely to die prematurely than those who got the recommended 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
So far from being a waste of time, sleep actually provides us with more time to live.
8. Sleep makes you more skillful
Sleep is an important part of the learning process, and without sleep, learning is only temporary.
For us to learn a new skill, learnt information needs to travel from the short term memory over to the long term memory. It’s a process that we can’t do when we’re awake. Many studies have shown that if we don’t sleep, we can’t learn. Only by getting enough sleep do we reach our full potential to learn new skills.
So considering that sleep and learning are connected, is there a way to learn while we are actually sleeping? Researchers at Yale University sought to find the answer. By analyzing the brain function of people who were fast asleep in a dream, but aware they were dreaming (known as lucid dreaming) researchers saw that the parts of the brain responsible for learning were lighting up showing that learning was taking place.
The results follow from a previous study by the University of Bern, who found that lucid dreamers who practiced throwing a coin into a cup while they were dreaming were more skillful at it when they had woken up.
Considering that we spend a third of our lives asleep, imagine the potential if we were all able to develop skills while we are asleep.
9. Sleep makes you smarter
With sleep so intricately connected to learning, you would have thought that getting better sleep would help boost performance at school, and you would be right.
Researchers from UCLA gave 535 teenagers checklists to monitor their sleep and study time over three 14 day periods in their 9th, 10th and 12th grades. Students that had lost sleep had less comprehension during class and performed worse on tests, regardless of how much time they spent studying.
Another study found that high performing students got on average 25 minutes more sleep than students with Cs Ds and Fs.
And yet another found that those who slept well before an exam performed better than those who spent the night studying.
This has been a hot topic of research and the results are conclusive, sleep has a big impact on grades. Those who get enough sleep at night have a big advantage over those who don’t. Learning a few sleep tips can make a big difference.
10. Sleep helps you get more done
Sleep makes us more productive and helps us perform better at our jobs.
One study on airline pilots who took a 26 minute power nap found they performed 34% better and were 56% more alert. Just this small amount of sleep can make a big difference, but research continually finds that a third of us aren’t getting enough sleep to perform at peak levels, costing billions in lost productivity.
The continued message that sleep makes us more effective has prompted business leaders to do what was considered unthinkable and encourage its workers to sleep on the job. Considering that sleep helps us become more skillful and saves businesses money, as mentioned in previous points, it makes good business sense to ensure workers are well rested.
Multinationals such as Nike, Ben & Jerry’s, and airliners such as BA and Continental, all encourage workplace napping. Google has its own nap pods that its employees can use to grab a power nap. Even NASA is training its astronauts on how to sleep better.
Many more managers are beginning to agree that people work best when they are well rested. Of course not everyone values sleep, as these sleep quotes attest. But most people can agree that having a workforce working at peak performance is a huge advantage to any business.