We don’t need science to tell us that we don’t feel well when we don’t get a good night’s sleep.
But new research puts a different spin on sleeping “well”.
One study published in August found that those who sleep six hours a night or less are four times as likely to catch a cold.
By compromising the immune system, poor sleep was a greater risk factor for getting sick than stress, age and even smoking.
Chronic lack of sleep also increases our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and cardiovascular disease.
“It is my hope,” Aric Prather, the lead author of the study told The Washington Post, “that studies like this one will provide the necessary science to show conclusively that chronic short sleep has a health cost”.
Now, a new study has found that sleeping boosts our body’s memory so it can recognise bad bacteria or previous infections and mobilise our immune system to shut them down quickly.
“While it has been known for a long time that sleep supports long-term memory formation in the psychological domain, the idea that long-term memory formation is a function of sleep effective in all organismic systems is, in our view, entirely new,” said lead author Jan Born of the University of Tuebingen.
“We consider our approach toward a unifying concept of biological long-term memory formation, in which sleep plays a critical role, a new development in sleep research and memory research.”
About 18 per cent of us regularly sleep less than six hours a night and 20 per cent suffer chronically from poor sleep.
Apart from the rare few who function on very little sleep, the rest of our lives depend on it.
When we don’t get enough sleep, our immune system can become confused.
“If we didn’t sleep, then the immune system might focus on the wrong parts of the pathogen,” Born says.
“In addition to this, there is evidence that the hormones released during sleep benefit the crosstalk between antigen-presenting and antigen-recognising cells, and some of these important hormones could be lacking without sleep.”
Born says his research suggests that sleep is an integral function for boosting the body’s immune system and feeling “well”.