Sleep: Your Hidden Superpower

35% of Americans sleep less than 7 hours per night

How did you sleep last night?

Researchers are beginning to understand the consequences of the sleep-deprived lifestyle. Chronic fatigue, digestive problems, and weight gain are among some of the health issues that can be avoided or improved with more — and better — sleep.

Sleeping Improves Your Mood

Prioritizing sleep could have a positive effect on your mental health.

In 2006, researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California conducted a study to determine the effects of a night of sleep deprivation on memory and emotion.

The study subjects who had been sleep-deprived were less able to remember the words they had previously been shown (compared with the group who had slept normally). However, of the words they did recall, they were twice as likely to remember negative words than positive words.

The researchers suggested that lack of sleep may make you twice as likely to form memories of the negative events in your day. This means that chronically under-sleeping may affect your outlook more than you think.

Sleep for Immunity

When it comes to health, is it really a big deal if you don’t get your nightly 8 hours? It could be.

The European Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Potsdam study was the first to link “suboptimal sleep” (less than 6 hours per night) and cancer risk. The study found that short sleep was correlated with a higher risk for chronic diseases, including stroke, heart attack, and cancer.

Sleep deprivation can prevent your immune system from functioning optimally. When sleep is reduced, the production of protective antibodies and cytokines — which your body uses to help fight off infection — is lowered, too.

Understand Your Natural Rhythm

If waking up is difficult for you, it’s worth taking a look at your chronotype. Do you naturally rise with the sun (lark) or are you your best self in the evening (owl)?

Much of modern society favors early start times for school and work. Owls, who are pushed out of their optimal sleep window by this lark-oriented scheduling, can find this challenging and may suffer from “social jet lag.” Similarly, larks struggle in countries where late nights are the norm.

If you understand your natural rhythm, you can plan to optimize both your sleeping and waking hours. Knowing the importance of sleep, how can you plan your daily activities to use your natural chronotype as an advantage?