It doesn't take a rocket scientist – or a somnologist – to figure out that sleep impacts our health. What many of us don't know, is just how many different aspects of our functioning sleep can affect. "It's not just diabetes, it's not just heart disease; it's memory, learning, depression, mood," says Kristen Knutson, a National Sleep Foundation poll scholar and assistant professor of medicine at University of Chicago. "There's a huge effect of sleep across the board for us, throughout our lives."
We aren't yet able to calculate the perfect amount of sleep for each person, but studies have shown that seven to eight hours of quality rest is likely the sweet spot. In order to achieve optimum sleep, Knutson says people should do their best to stick to a sleep schedule, shut down electronics well before bedtime, and recognize that sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
While sleeping on a textbook never helped much with memorization, sleep does seem to help us process and retain memories. Various studies have found that people who sleep after learning a task do better on later tests. One study even suggested that the sooner you fall asleep after learning something new, the better. On the flip side, using sleeping pills can actually cause memory problems.
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