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You need more sleep

University students are becoming the new walking zombies, sleep specialist Dr. James Maas told a group at Dalhousie University.

“Sleep…it affects your alertness, health, thinking, academic performance, social relationships – and it is the best predictor we have for how long you are going to live,” said Maas, who is known internationally for his research on sleep.

According to Maas, 95 per cent of the population does not meet the recommended nine hours of sleep per night.

Thirty people showed up at 7 p.m. on Oct. 20 to the Sleep for Success talk, including both students and health professionals.

Maas stressed that sleep deprivation leads to higher risks of hypertension (heart attacks and strokes), Type 2 diabetes, depression, influenza, skin and allergy problems, cancer (due to a weak immune system), Alzheimer’s, and obesity.

He started off the conversation by asking everyone how many hours of sleep they get each night.  Most people indicated only five to six hours of sleep per night, with two people putting up their hands for the recommended nine hours of sleep.

“In our research we found that students are moderately to severely sleep-deprived,” Maas said, “and so are adults.”

“Sleep affects your mood,” Maas added.  “You get irritable, you get angry, and you can get clinically depressed – simply because of your sleeping.”

75 per cent of students and adults experience sleep problems at least two nights a week, Maas said.  They have difficulty falling asleep, or wake up in the middle of the night, wake up too early or a combination of all three.

“We have to do something about it,” Maas said.  “All of these things cause what we call daytime sleeping, which means you are going to be groggy all day and you feel a lack of mental clarity.”

Sleep deprivation also can kill brain neurons. The damage is irreversible, according to Maas.

Maas stated that the sleeping brain puts new information into long-term storage.  He stressed that it is essential to put all of the newly learned information into the part of the brain that makes a physical record of the information. This is essential for memory, learning, performance, problem solving, critical thinking and athletic performance.

“Our research has demonstrated that you need a minimum of nine hours of sleep to put short-term memory into permanent memory,” Maas said.  “You just can’t cheat on your sleep.”

“Students tell me, workers tell me to ‘get real’ because there are not enough hours in the day because they have school, work responsibilities, and would like some downtime to play golf or to be on the Internet or talk to their friends,” Maas added.

Maas stressed that you can still do all of those things – but you need to prioritize.  He said people need to learn how to do the most important things first. This way, you will have time to have your recommended nine hours of sleep per night.

Maas said he had completed an experiment with students from Massachusetts.  He asked the students to get one more hour of sleep by having them come into the dorms a little earlier and have a later first-class start time.

What happened?

“There was an increase in grade point average, reduced drug use, improved athletic records, moods of the students increased, and 17 per cent more hot breakfasts were consumed,” said Maas.

“Exercise is important, nutrition is important – but nether are as important as predictors on how long you are going to live,” said Maas.

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