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Is Sleep Really That Important?

Clinical Nutritionist and Naturopath BROOKE BENSON CAMPBELL (BHSc) dives into the world of brain health to discover why improving your performance and wellbeing could be as simple as catching a few extra Z’s…

We spend about one-third of our life either sleeping or attempting to do so. By the age of 90, we will have spent an accumulated total of 33 years in bed. In this respect, sleep seems less about relaxation and more about wasting vital time. So the question remains: is sleep really that important? Clinical Nutritionist Brooke Benson Campbell presents seven surprising reasons why your slumber matters.



Sleep facilitates the brain’s consolidation of information, moving the day’s learnings from short-term to long-term storage. Skip sleep and your ability to remember things will suffer. In a study where individuals were sleep deprived prior to being given new material to learn, there was a 40% decrease in their ability to form new memories and retain information. The takeaway: a late night out before that important meeting can be the difference between nailing the statistics and confusing your KPIs with your KPOs.



Investors and finance experts beware! In a fascinating study of two groups, people were asked to choose each day between receiving a set sum of money or taking a riskier option in which they would either receive a greater sum of cash or none at all. This experiment ran for five weeks, during which one group slept for eight hours a night and the other for five hours per night. As the weeks wore on, the sleep-deprived group were more likely to gamble the money and choose the riskier option (without self-awareness of the fact). Another study of volunteers kept awake for 24 hours found they were more excited at the prospect of rewards from risk-taking and less emotionally affected by the losses. Results suggest that sleep deprivation poses a threat to financial competence, changing areas of the brain associated with risk processing and emotional reward. In short, sleep interferes with your ability to make logical decisions regarding money. A responsible saver can become a reckless spender overnight – to count your dollars, counting sheep is essential.



One of the interesting findings to emerge from the world of obesity science is that people who sleep less tend to weigh more. Compared to their well-rested selves, people who pulled an all-nighter suffered a sharp decline in the ‘appetite-evaluation’ region of their brain. They weren’t just hungry, they also experienced a huge increase in the desire for high-sugar, high-calorie foods. We know that sleep deprivation results in bad food choices and an increase in portion size. What does this mean? In lunch terms, the right amount of sleep could be the difference between a kale salad and KFC. Weight control is as simple as a little shuteye. 



Mistakes ranging from the mundane to the catastrophic (including Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Challenger explosion) have been linked to sleep deprivation and the cycle of late-nights and early-mornings. Lack of sleep is also a leading cause of car accidents and work mishaps, because when the brain is deprived of sleep it becomes particularly difficult to perform prolonged, repetitive tasks like driving and data collection. In fact, studies show that drivers who slept five to six hours per night were twice as likely to crash as those who slept seven to eight hours; those who slept four hours or less were four times more likely to cause an accident. In the case of motor function, it seems driving a car with lack of sleep is the equivalent of driving in a Bird Box challenge… i.e. blindfolded.



Studies show that sleep acts as a natural painkiller to manage and lower pain levels – 230 participants recorded their nightly hours of sleep and corresponding pain levels the following day over the course of a few days. Results suggested that simply losing 30 minutes of sleep per night accompanies noticeable increases in pain response. Lack of sleep has a serious impact on your next-day quality of life and bodily function, meaning that sleep may be more beneficial than magnesium and anti-inflammatories in muscle recovery and chronic pain. Hit the hay as hard as you hit the gym and reap the rewards.



Mood and sleep use the same brain chemicals and neurotransmitters for regulation. When these neurotransmitters are disrupted by sleep loss, chemical changes in the brain can also result in manic feelings and behaviours similar to bipolar disorder – high highs and low lows. MRI studies show that brain activity after periods of sleep loss mirrors the brain activity indicative of anxiety disorders. Simply put, the brain’s stress response is heightened when we haven’t slept enough. Emotional reactions of anger, anxiety and frustration result from sleep deprivation.  But it’s not all bad news because the link between anxiety and sleep is so strong researchers have started to implement ‘sleep therapy’ to treat anxiety disorder. Feeling on edge? Take 40 winks.



Research shows that a lack of sleep not only makes us more reluctant to interact with strangers, but also makes our brains less likely to respond to situations with empathy and understanding. Just one night of sleep loss affects the way our brain recognises subtle facial cues of happiness and sadness in others, making the act of teamwork or partnership nearly impossible. Missing vital signs of emotion in others limits our ability to read work colleagues and friends, affecting our relationships and workplace results. Snore your way to professional success and snooze your way to intimacy. Nighty night!

Brooke Benson Campbell (BHSc) is a Clinical Nutritionist and Naturopath, speaker, writer and presenter with a passion for all things health, beauty and wellbeing. A self-proclaimed human test subject, she is constantly trialing the newest products, seeking the latest discoveries and reading the current clinical studies, in order to share her findings with the public through private practice, social media and industry education.

For the full article grab the April 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

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