Sleep Disorders

06 August 2008

Sleep actually makes you clever

Although going to sleep early, as minister Sonjica suggested, is hardly a sustainable substitute for a decent power supply, there is some truth to the minister's words.

In a shocking move the Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica yesterday said that the public should "go to sleep earlier… and grow cleverer" as a solution to the electricity crisis South Africa is currently facing.

Although this is hardly a sustainable substitute for a decent power supply, there is some truth to the minister's words.

A 2007 Harvard study found that a lack of sleep disrupts the functioning of the hippocampus - the area of the brain involved in forming new memories - and this could explain why children who don't get enough sleep tend to do poorly in school.

Yet another study by the Harvard Medical School in 2006 found that sleep is critical to memory, particularly the ability to recall recently learned facts and events, researchers reported. "Sleep had a benefit for the consolidation and strengthening of memory," researcher Dr Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen said. "It actively does so; it's not a passive process. The brain actively engages memories and leads them to be strengthened the next day, and it's a long-lasting benefit."

"This study suggests that parents of students would do well to recommend that their children both study hard and obtain sufficient sleep in order to maximise their academic performance," commented Dr Robert D. Vorona, an associate professor in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, in Norfolk.

A study by the University of California in 2004 enforces the benefits of sleep. "We have confirmed the suspicion scientists have had for decades: The information you get while awake is strengthened while you sleep," said lead study author Marcos Frank.

In this study conducted on cats researchers found that "sleep modifies the effect of environmental stimuli on the development of new brain connections," said Frank.

Sleep can be deadly
On the flip side though, a recent study revealed that both too little and too much sleep can increase the risk of death. University of Warwick researchers studied 10 308 people between 1985 and 1988, and between 1992 and 1993, and found that seven hours of sleep a night was optimal for the average adult.

People who slept five hours a night had a 1.7-fold increased risk of death from all causes and a two-fold increased risk of cardiovascular-related death. But the study also found that those who slept eight hours a night were more than twice as likely to die as people who slept for seven hours.

- (Wilma Stassen, Health24)

January 2008


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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