Prescription: Sleep

It’s hard to believe that doctors and scientists are discovering new things about the therapeutic benefits of sleep. After all, humans, like all mammals, have been sleeping since well before the dawn of recorded history, and undoubtedly back as far as the time the first human ancestor decided to venture out of Africa. How is it possible to learn anything new about something that is such a fundamental, inescapable part of the human condition?

The Japan Times recently ran an interesting article on how scientists are developing a new “understanding” of sleep. Basically, the new “understanding” is this: sleep is really, really good for you. You want to make sure not only that you get the right amount of sleep, but that you also get that sleep at the right time, when the circadian clock that is built into every human being is telling you that it is time to hit the sack. People who align their sleep patterns with their personal biological clocks, scientists have concluded, “are less fatigued, have better moods, maintain healthier weights, gain more benefit from their medications, think more clearly, and have improved long-term health outcomes,”

On the other hand, if you don’t get enough sleep and at the right time, the human body compensates by doing things like releasing hormones that increase stress, injecting more sugar into the blood stream, and increasing blood pressure. If you consistently fight your circadian clock and that need to sleep over the long term, these bodily responses to the lack of regular sleep will produce adverse health effects.

None of this should come as a surprise, to scientists or anyone else. It makes you wonder if scientists and researchers have lost sight of the forest for the trees, by focusing on minutiae rather than the basics. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if humans have been doing something forever and in fact are driven by basic biological impulses to do it, it’s probably in your best interests to yield to those impulses and give in to what your body is telling you. And the nice thing about sleep is that it is something you can actually exercise some control over. Taking steps to plan your days to allow for regulated sleep patterns will pay dividends.