11 Things We've Learned About Sleep Over The Past Year

11 Things We've Learned About Sleep Over The Past Year

Here at HuffPost Healthy Living, it's no secret that we're a little obsessed with sleep (we have an entire page dedicated to the latest sleep research, after all). So it probably comes as no surprise that Sleep Awareness Week, which runs from March 2 to 9, is kind of like our Super Bowl. In honor of the week, we've rounded up some of the most interesting sleep-related research findings from the past year. And even though Sleep Awareness Week is only a week long, let's agree to make sleep a priority all year.

1. Sorry, but you really do look tired. Not getting enough sleep at night can really take a toll on your looks. A study in the journal Sleep showed that sleep-deprived faces have more wrinkles, eye-swelling, under-eye circles, eye redness and eyelid drooping than well-rested faces. The study included 10 people whose photographs were taken after a full eight hours' rest, and then after 31 hours of no sleep.

2. Your brain's system for taking out the trash is more active during sleep.
trash can
The waste-removal system of the brain -- called the glymphatic system -- is nearly 10 times more active during sleep than during wakefulness, according to a study in the journal Science. And to better allow for this waste-removal, the brain's cells actually shrink, found researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center.

3. Some people can remember their dreams better than others. If you're always able to remember your dreams, while your partner never can, spontaneous activity in the temporo-parietal junction of your brains may explain why. A study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology shows that people who regularly remember their dreams have more activity in this part of the brain, versus people who only rarely remember their dreams.

4. The brains of insomniacs may be different from good sleepers. A small study in the journal Sleep showed that people who have insomnia have more brain plasticity and activity in the motor cortex of the brain, which is responsible for controlling movement. However, researchers noted that more work is needed to determine whether this plasticity is a good or bad thing.

5. Nearly half of Americans aren't getting enough Zzs.
tired at work
About 40 percent of Americans got fewer than seven hours of sleep in a typical night last year, according to a Gallup report. While everybody's sleep needs are different, the National Sleep Foundation does recommend that adults clock between seven and nine hours a night.

6. Schedules are good for your sleep. Having consistency in your daily routine (including when you start work, when you eat dinner, etc.) is associated with better sleep, according to a study in the Journal of Gerontology: Series B.

7. Going to bed and waking up at the same times each day could be good for your weight. Regular wake and sleep times are associated with less body fat among young women, Brigham Young University researchers found in an American Journal of Health Promotion study. The study also showed that getting too little sleep (6.5 hours a night or fewer) or too much sleep (8.5 hours a night or more) was associated with more body fat.

8. And for kids, a regular bedtime could actually lead to better behavior.
A Pediatrics study showed an association between inconsistent bedtimes and increased hyperactivity among 7-year-olds. "Kids don't say they're tired, they typically act it out -- most commonly by being hyperactive," Dr. Carolyn D'Ambrosio, the director of the sleep center at Tufts Medical Center, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience.

9. Insomnia doesn't just zap your daytime productivity -- it also raises the risk of a number of health conditions. A Journal of Sleep Research study that included data from 24,715 people showed that insomnia is a risk factor for a wide variety of health problems, including anxiety, depression, heart attack, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.

10. Burgers look awfully good when you're tired.
Just one night of no sleep increases cravings for calorie-dense foods, according to a University of California, Berkeley, study. Researchers looked at study participants' brains after a normal night's sleep and after a night of sleep deprivation, and found that not only did the participants tend to crave unhealthy foods like pizza and donuts over healthy foods like carrots and strawberries, but their brain activity was also different. Specifically, the part of the brain that controls complex decision-making had impairments after the sleep deprivation, while the part of the brain associated with reward had more activity.

11. Catch-up sleep can help -- but only to a certain extent. While recovery sleep can improve sleepiness and decrease levels of inflammatory hormones, it doesn't seem to improve brain functioning, according to a study in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism. "The major take away message is that extended sleep helps, but only to some extent," study researcher Dr. Alexandros Vgontzas, a professor at Penn State University's Hershey Sleep Research & Treatment Center, told HuffPost Science.

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