• Be alert to your need for sleep and give it a higher priority. (Getty Images)
Improve your memory, increase your learning capabilities and fight heart disease without having to even get out of bed.
By
Yasmin Noone

8 Jul 2016 - 12:16 PM  UPDATED 8 Jul 2016 - 12:16 PM

There’s nothing like that relaxed feeling and buzzing glow you achieve from a restful two-week holiday, full of healthy sleep-ins day after day.

But what if you could achieve that same state of Zen for the other 50 weeks of the year without having to leave your bed or spend a cent?

President of the Australasian Sleep Association, Dr Maree Barnes, says maintaining a healthy sleep pattern, year-round, could enable you to reap the mental and physical benefits you might feel after a holiday but on a daily basis.

“People need to recognise that one of the pillars of good health, along with having a good diet and exercise, is having enough sleep: around seven to nine hours a night,” says Dr Barnes.

“If you have good, quality sleep you’ll live a happier and healthier life.”

But why does getting a little extra shut-eye each night achieve so much? Apparently, sleep impacts a number of bodily functions: getting more sleep will improve these processes while getting less could also leave you wanting.

“People need to recognise that one of the pillars of good health, along with having a good diet and exercise, is having enough sleep: around seven to nine hours a night."

Memory and learning

It’s long-known that sleep after learning impacts memory retention. Research shows that the hippocampalcellular and molecular processes critical for memory consolidation are affected by the amount and quality of sleep we get each night.

This is because our brain redistributes our memories as we sleep, transferring some of our memories from our temporary into long-term stores.

“We know that having enough sleep will enable you to remember things better the next day, as during the night, memories are moved from short-term to long-term memory shortage,” explains Dr Barnes.  

“One of the things we also know is that quality sleep will enable you, not just to learn things, but to help you to know which memory you want to retrieve when faced with a difficult situation, and be able to apply it to the situation.

“So if you are trying to remember something important but don’t have sleep, you may recall it that night but not the next day. That’s why it’s not good for students to do all nighters.”

Feeling sleepy? Have a nap. It's good for you!
Here's a very valid case to have a power nap. Experts say an after-lunch snooze is good for you and your productivity.

Mood and alertness

A 2013 study, published in PLOS One looked into the effect of night shifts on the human body to highlight the impact that sleep has on our mood and concentration levels.

Using 15 healthy police officers as test subjects, the research shows that subjective mood levels decreased significantly when the subjects started doing night shifts.

However, it also found the night workers’ moods, performance and alterness improved as their circadian rhythms adapted to night shift work. They were able to also achieve longer daytime sleep patterns to eliminate the cycle of sleep deprivation and disturbance.

“Put simply, people who have enough sleep are happy and alert, while those who don’t can become grumpy and irritable, and are more likely to snap or argue with people at work and home.”

“Sleep is a risk factor for many diseases, along with a whole number of other risk factors, so if you sleep well, it helps your general health."

Disease prevention

Having enough quality sleep doesn’t just generate short-term effects overnight. According to the chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, Professor David Hillman, healthy long-term sleep patterns are associated with disease prevention.

“Sleep is a risk factor for many diseases, along with a whole number of other risk factors, so if you sleep well, it helps your general health,” says Prof Hillman.  

Research, published in 2015, analysed the effects of sleep deficiency on the cardiovascular system. It revealed that the decreased quantity and quality of sleep was linked to cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes.

Another study of 5,666 people over three years from 2012 showed that habitually sleeping less than six hours a night significantly increases your risk of stroke symptoms if you are middle-aged person of average health and normal weight. Researchers have even found various links between a lack of sleep and breast, prostate and colorectal cancer.

Scientists don’t entirely known why sleep deprivation is such a major risk factor contributing to so many diseases or, alternatively, good health. But Prof Hillman says it’s most likely due to the fact that a lack of sleep causes a stress response, which disrupts the underlying biological processes in our bodies relating to diseases like glucose metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation.

“We know it’s not sensible to have high blood cholesterol, be overweight, smoke, drink lots of alcohol or not have any exercise. Well here’s another thing that’s not sensible to ignore: your need to sleep.

“So be alert to your need for sleep and give it a higher priority. It’s not a small issue: it’s a big issue and it’s one of those things you can do to improve your own health that produces instantaneous results.”

Elephant adorably falls asleep after human sings her a lullaby
A soothing lullaby can do wonders not just for human babies, but for elephants as well, according to this video.
SBS Insight: Sleep
Are we getting enough sleep?
7 tips to get better sleep from Arianna Huffington
To promote her new book 'The Sleep Revolution', Arianna Huffington shared her tips for getting your best sleep during a Twitter Q&A.