This week is Sleep Awareness Week and many of those involved in sleep medicine will be working to educate the public and raise awareness about the important role sleep plays in our lives.  The National Sleep Foundation kicks off the week every year by releasing the new Sleep in America poll data which looks at sleep trends across the country.  This year’s Sleep in America poll focuses on Transportation Workers and Sleep.  Local sleep centers and community groups often sponsor events celebrating sleep and offering opportunities to learn more about sleep and it’s affect on all aspects of our lives.  The end of Sleep Awareness Week coincides with the end of Daylight Savings Time on March 11 when most Americans lose an hour of sleep when the clocks spring forward by one hour.


The study of sleep and how it impacts our lives continues to expand and researchers are making great strides in understanding how sleep works and how the amount you get can affect your health.  As research is conducted and studies are completed, our understanding of sleep evolves which means best practices, recommendations, and advice can change over time.  To help keep you up to date, here are some of the most important findings that have impacted or changed our understanding of sleep.


1.     The Link Between Sleep and Immunity

According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep or lack thereof, can have a detrimental effect on your immune system and leave you susceptible to any bug or virus that comes your way.  When you sleep, your body creates cytokines which help fight infection.  If you are not getting the sleep you need, your immune system may not be strong enough to keep you in good health.  Additionally, a study published in the journal Immunity indicates there is a direct relationship between our circadian clock and our immune system.


2.     The Link Between Sleep and Our Capacity for Learning

A study published in the journal Current Biology sheds new light on how getting the sleep we need makes it possible for us to learn.  The study found that sleeping helps our brain move memories and information from one area to another which aids in retention and opens up capacity for new information to be stored.  Let’s say your brain is like a computer network.  On a computer network, you store files on a local device like your laptop all day long as you go through your day but at night, when you aren’t working, those files are transferred to a server or other device to create a back-up.  When you look at your working memory as your laptop and the rest of your brain as the server, it is easy to see why getting the necessary sleep to support this transfer is so important.


3.     The Link Between Sleep and Appetite

A study conducted at Uppsala University in Sweden and published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that when we don’t get enough sleep, our body thinks we are hungrier than when we get the sleep we need.  The research team looked at how the brain responded differently to images related to food after a sleeplessness night and a full night sleep.  They found that the part of the brain associated with appetite is much more activated during the test after a night without sleep than it is after a full night’s sleep.  This expands our current understanding of the role sleep may play in obesity.

For the latest information on sleep research, visit the National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control.