Forget dietary supplements, eating plans, and fitness regimens. One of the best things you can do for your health is free and requires minimal effort. In fact, you don’t even have to leave your bed: The benefits of sleep are far-reaching. A good night’s sleep makes us feel better, sharpens our minds, curbs inflammation, boosts creativity, improves athletic performance, helps maintain a healthy weight, and lowers stress levels. If you happen to be college-age or just out of college, sleep can also keep you alive and in one piece, according to new research from Switzerland.
Researchers at the University of Zurich and the University Hospital Zurich have highlighted a critical consequence of a chronic lack of sleep after studying the risk behavior of 14 healthy male students, aged from 18 to 28 years. They found that if the students slept for only five hours per night for a week, they displayed riskier behavior than if they slept for the recommended amount—according to the National Sleep Foundation, young adults (18 to 25 years) should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
To test the students’ risk-taking behaviors, two times a day they had to choose between a guaranteed cash payout or a higher amount that carried no guarantee. The sleepier students more often opted for the risky decision of no payout. The study, published in the journal Annals of Neurology, found that one poor night of sleep didn’t have much effect on behavior, but the more consecutive nights the students were deprived of sleep, the more risks they were willing to take. Worse, the students weren’t aware of the change in their risk-taking behavior.
“We therefore do not notice ourselves that we are acting riskier when suffering from a lack of sleep,” says Christian Baumann, professor of neurology and the head of the Clinical Research Priority Programs (CRPP) “Sleep and Health” at UZH, as reported on ScienceDaily. Previous studies have linked the right prefrontal cortex of the brain with risk-taking behavior. However, this study is the first to prove that inadequate sleep directly affects this part of the brain.
Parents may want to check in with their college-age kids—and the teens still living at home, for that matter—to make sure they’re getting enough shut-eye. And let them know about these smart sleeping tips.