Michael Cleary-Gaffney: The Importance of Sleep

As I finish up the end of my thesis whilst being overly sleep deprived the importance of sleep has never been so pertinent. Today, I post a video presentation by Russell Foster a professor at the University of Oxford. Here he discusses the reasons why we sleep and why its so important for cognitive performance.  He argues that poor sleep can lead to attenuated  cognitive performance such as poor memory. Lack of sleep can lead to poor creativity and failure to come up with logical and valid solutions to problems. These reductions in cognitive performance are of significant importance given that major decisions made by governments are made late into the night when politicians are sleep deprived. It is reasonable to infer some of the poor decisions made regarding the bank bailout were possibly due to lack of sleep as a result of meetings going late into the night-time period. More evidence of the deleterious consequences of poor sleep come from shift-workers who work at times which are not natural times for activity. Shift-workers have significantly more accidents and errors in judgement. A clear example of this is the Chernobyl disaster which was attributed to errors in judgment during the night-time period.

Along with attenuating cognitive performance lack of sleep can ensue weight gain and  lead to poor metabolism. These increases in weight gain are attributed to shifting food intake towards the nighttime period which is unnatural for humans. Animal studies have provided evidence that when nocturnal animals shift their food intake to an unnatural time (light period) this results in increased weight gain even though their caloric intake and behavioural activity is similar to animal who eat during the a period which is natural for them. Support has also been provided from human studies where it was found that people who eat after 20.00 have higher Body Mass Index (BMI).


Even though most of us think we are doing good by staying up late to finish up activities we are actually doing more harm than good. So the next time you have a deadline make sure to leave time for sleep because it may take you longer in the long run to complete the task to a high quality standard.

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