6 Ways Sleep Makes You A Better Person

Flickr / Guian Bolisay
Flickr / Guian Bolisay

Feel like you have way too much to do to sleep recently? Between work and/or school, social obligations, getting fit and dozens of other things, shuteye easily falls on the do-later list for many of us.

If you’ve been skimping on sleep recently though, you could actually be making your life harder and making yourself less efficient and even moodier in the process.

Despite the common notion that less sleep equals more time to get stuff done and be productive, the reality is likely the opposite for most of us. Science has been quite busy the past few years looking into the world of sleep, and much of the recent research makes an interesting and pointed case for cramming a little more sleep into our busy lives.

From acing a project to working on your health, just about every goal or ambition benefits from slumber, beyond the obvious energy boost. If you need some motivation to get to bed, skip the sheep and try counting these six ways you’ll be better off for sleeping tonight.

1) It Boosts Learning & Memory

Science is still learning every day about the mechanics of the brain but one thing is known: your brain likes sleep. In fact, it thrives on it. While you rest, it’s clearing out the chemical byproducts of the day’s neuroactivity, solidifying new connections, consolidating your memories and working through the day’s events.

Modern research has formed the hypothesis that memories made during the day are consolidated during sleep. Memory activity seems to be particularly active during the slow-wave stage, while REM sleep serves to reinforce connections within the brain. How well you slept the previous night can even impair your ability to learn new information today.

Several studies demonstrate better retention and recall of learned information following a period of sleep, on tasks ranging from learning new languages, to new motor skills and even complex cognitive problems. One study even demonstrated that students’ time is likely better spent sleeping than pulling an all-night study sesh.

2) It Encourages Your Creativity

While the occasional brilliant idea may come during periods of sleep deprivation, research has found that sleeping and dreaming actually have measurable impacts on creativity. Creativity is essentially the ability to draw novel thoughts using what you know (inference), see things differently (flexible thinking) and the ability to make connections between different things (relational memory).

One study found that sleep was twice as likely to result in people developing problem-solving insight after learning a cognitive task. Another group of researchers found that a period of sleep after learning dramatically increased inferential ability, even though participants weren’t themselves aware of improved performance. An older study also highlighted clear deficits in sleep-deprived subjects’ flexibility and originality compared to well-rested subjects.

Research shows that sleep makes us more insightful, meaning we can see deeper into problems and look at things in different ways. It supports flexible reasoning, giving us the mental juice to develop innovative solutions and ideas. Since rest supports memory consolidation, it also gives us a broader base of knowledge to draw from when solving problems.

3) It Makes You More Attractive

Have you ever had someone ask if you felt OK after a long night? Beauty sleep is not just an idiomatic expression. Physical changes caused by sleep deprivation such as dark under-eye circles, red eyes and a more sallow complexion appear to send silent cues to others.

Two different studies asking people to examine photos of well-rested and tired people found that sleep-deprived people came across as less attractive and less approachable. People were also said to look sadder and less healthy when tired.

There are other longer-term aspects of appearance that relate to rest as well. Poor sleep can age your skin faster by impairing healing and cellular regeneration, making you look older after short-term sleep loss and possibly contributing to premature wrinkles. Not getting enough rest puts you at greater risk for weight gain and obesity, believed to be associated with greater calorie consumption and metabolic effects.

4) It Makes You More Likeable

If you aren’t sleeping, you’re not doing your professional or personal relationships any favors. When sleep deprived, you are more irritable and less in control of your emotions. You are more likely to overreact, be moody or misinterpret a situation, and have a generally gloomier outlook. You even have reduced capacity to appreciate humor. All of these factors can influence how friends, coworkers and romantic partners perceive you.

For those of us in relationships, not getting enough shut eye leads to trouble at home. Research says that sleep deprived couples are more likely to have conflicts and have lower levels of appreciation toward their partners. When both halves of a couple are well-rested, they are better at communicating, keeping emotions healthy, and better at decision-making, too.

5) It Supports Self-Control and Decision-Making

Not getting enough rest has significant impacts on cognition and brain activity. Sleep deprivation drains the brain’s energy reserves and causes stress, meaning you have less mental power to process complex decisions. It also affects attention span and vigilance, making it harder to stay focused, and more difficult to avoid procrastination and distraction.

Studies show that a tired brain is also more likely to crave sweet and salty foods high in calories, and it may even make you more food and choose less healthy options at the grocery store. If you are trying to get or stay in shape, this could definitely strain your efforts.

Another interesting bit of information? Being sleep-deprived may even make you more likely to behave unethically as self-control and inhibitions are lowered. All around, snoozing equips you to better assess a situation, put more effort and thought into choices and identify potential consequences.

Whether it’s staying on task or skipping that donut in lieu of an egg white omelette, a well-rested mind helps you makes wiser choices.

6) It Gives You Motivation

Motivation to get stuff done is a necessary part of doing well whether at work, school or the gym. If you feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating and your mind feels foggy, it’s easy to see how it feels a little harder to drum up motivation to meet your deadlines or goals.

Human motivation is a pretty complex thing, but sleep is believed to play a role due to it’s effect on neurotransmitters and overall energy levels.

If you are tired, physical tasks are going to feel harder and cognitive tasks can also seem more taxing. One University of Florida study found that people were more likely to dislike their jobs and feel less satisfied when sleep deprived. This in turn can affect performance, and even burden other co-workers. Research estimates that lost sleep costs the U.S. economy over $63 billion per year in lost productivity.

Other research highlighted potential connections between sleep and academic motivation, with college students sleeping earlier and adequately having higher motivation and achievement.

Not getting enough sleep is also associated with less motivation to exercise. Though studies aren’t clear on the exact physical effects, sleep deprived people feel exhausted sooner and perceive greater exertion. Night owls (who are more likely to be sleep deprived) also report less motivation to exercise.

As you can see, time spent sleeping is time well spent. Most of us know that sleep is healthy and something we need, but often don’t realize just how much it affects our lives.

From making you wiser and smarter to more attractive and grateful, few activities have such a broad impact on your wellbeing. If you want to better yourself in the most efficient way possible, take a look at your nighttime habits and make sure you’re getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night.

How much sleep do you get on a normal night? What do you notice most when you’re tired versus well-rested? Share in the comments.

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