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Sleep health leadSo you hit the snooze button multiple times when your alarm goes off in the morning, or load yourself up with caffeine to help you concentrate and keep drowsiness at bay? If so, then you are likely to be sleep-deprived, which, recent research has revealed, can adversely affect your health.

Studies at the University of Wisconsin concluded that sleep plays a crucial role in boosting brain power. According to Dr Chiara Cirelli, lead researcher at the University, “Sleeping promotes neurogenesis, the process by which new nerve cells grow, particularly when you are dreaming, which only happens during the deepest stage of sleep, REM (Rapid Eye Movement).” The research also concluded that you need sleep to ensure that your brain can acquire and process information to form memories. Neuroscientists believe that as we sleep, our hippocampus (the memory storehouse) is activated, allowing the brain to transfer memories from the short to the long-term.

While neurologists have long believed that regular sleep deprivation not only causes irreversible brain damage and compromises the body’s immune function, experiments conducted at the Centre For Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology in Philadelphia have concluded that if we consistently sleep for less than four hours, it will damage our Locus Ceruleus (LC) – neurons that determine how attentive and focused we are.

And if all of this does not prompt you to change your sleeping habits, consider this: researchers at the University of Surrey have linked inadequate sleep with eating disorders, auto-immune diseases, dementia and even Alzheimer’s. As a result, psychologists are advising their patients to consider sleep as the body’s mental detox as toxins linked to the onset of neural diseases are flushed out of the body during sleep.

Moral of the (bedtime) story – do not make staying up late a habit; make sure you get your much-needed eight hours of sleep every night!

– Dr Waqar Saeed
The writer is a physician.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on November 23, 2014.