As someone who eschewed sleep for most of my undergraduate years, I always find it interesting that we still don’t know precisely why we need sleep. Science can figure out a lot about sleep: what it helps us do, what happens if we don’t get enough of it, even why it was important for our ancestors and its role in human evolution. We still don’t know exactly why we need it, though, and more and more science points to a growing number of complex reasons sleep is essential to human function. It may turn out that the reason we can’t figure out precisely why we need sleep is that there isn’t a precise answer: it’s as multifaceted and variably functional as any other essential human process. So why is sleep so important for success?
What we do know is that we definitely need sleep, and some of the most successful people -think Barack Obama, Arianna Huffington and Richard Branson- prioritize it for these reasons:
One All-Nighter = Six Months of Poor Eating
One study showed that a single night of missed sleep had deleterious effects on insulin levels similar to six months on a high-fat diet. Regardless of your stance on dieting measures, insulin is key to maintaining a healthy -or unhealthy- weight, and its sensitivity can be very easily disrupted by lack of sleep. That a single night of missed sleep can impact sensitivity levels so significantly is a key factor in why highly successful people make getting enough zzzs a priority.
It can mess with your memories
One of the key theories regarding why we sleep concerns the formation of memories. While we sleep, our brains are hard at work piecing together the important and not-so-important parts of our day. Missing sleep in any amount disrupts the brains’ ability to consolidate these memories appropriately, studies have shown. Furthermore, one night of missed sleep impacts our ability to make new memories the following day. Successful people simply can’t miss out on this essential cognitive functioning, so they make sure they get enough sleep.
Poor sleeping habits may impact the development of Alzheimer’s
Most frightening of all, sleep deprivation may affect our ability to remember things we have already learned. Even changes in our sleep schedule, such as jet lag, may cause problems in the development and nourishment of our memory. Changes in the cells which reflect disturbances in the sleep cycle are a key underlying cause in the development of Alzheimer’s, this study found.
Successful people, from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison to Elon Musk, Tim Cook and Bill Gates all prioritize sleep in their lives. They know it’s essential to their greatest cognitive functioning and that not getting enough can cause massively harmful effects. Isn’t it time you started paying attention to how much shut-eye you’re getting, too?