Why Getting Enough Sleep Is Vitally Important

A new study finds more proof that REM sleep is critical to memory function. Getty

We're all surviving on less sleep these days, but just barely, according to Russell Foster. He's a circadian neuroscientist, which is to say an expert on sleep cycles, and in a compelling new TED talk he states with authority what our bodies keep telling us and most of us keep ignoring: that the third of our life we spend getting shut-eye is just as vital to us as the waking two thirds. As we sleep, our brain processes what we've seen and learned and helps to consolidate the memories. "When you're tired and you lack sleep, you have poor memory, you have poor creativity, you have increased impulsiveness, and you have overall poor judgment," says Foster. "But, my friends, it's so much worse than that." When we spend too much time awake, we're more likely to do drugs to get us up or take us down, and we're even more likely to overeat. Sustained stress associated with lack of sleep "leads to suppressed immunity," says Foster, meaning that tired people have higher rates of infection and may even have higher rates of cancer. Foster concludes with a delightful quotation from fantasy author Jim Butcher: "Sleep is God. Go worship." Amen to that.