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My peers used to brag about how little sleep they needed to perform their jobs.In earlier days, it was not uncommon at petroleum industry meetings to find groups of guys playing cards until 4 or 5 a.m., breaking for a few hours sleep and then showing up for an 8 a.m. meeting-bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, or so they thought.

I tried that, but I was lousy at poker, didnt smoke and didnt drink much. At any rate, I found from experience that I needed sleep in order to function properly and that smoke-filled rooms with bottles on the table and incomprehensible poker hands didnt improve my life.

As the years passed, I wondered just how alert and attentive those people could be after nights like that.I also wondered if that lifestyle might eventually catch up with them. Well, I guess it did; theyre all gone now. Getting at least eight hours of quality sleep each night is more important than I had realized.

The National Institutes of Health, the U.S. agency most responsible for biomedical and health research, reports the results of its research on the effects of sleep in its publication NIH Research Matters.I found two of these reports especially interesting.

As NIH summarizes it in How Sleep Clears the Brain, A mouse study suggests that sleep helps restore the brain by flushing out toxins that build up during waking hours. The results point to a potential new role for sleep in health and disease.

We already know that sleep is important for storing memories and that lack of it impairs reasoning, problem solving and attention to detail, but we have not known how all of this happens. Now University of Rochester Medical Center doctors have discovered a system that effectively drains waste products from our brains during sleep.This system also helps remove from brain tissue a toxic protein called beta-amyloid, which has been associated with Alzheimers disease.

In its report, Sleep Deprivation Increases Alzheimers Protein, NIH concludes that losing just one night of sleep led to an increase of beta-amyloid and that sleep deprivation may increase the risk of beta-amyloid build-up.It goes on to say, beta-amyloid clumps together to form amyloid plaques, which hinder communication between [the brains] neurons. Additional sleep research with people aged 22 to 72 seems to agree with the results of NIHs previous mice studies.

Harvard Health Publish­ing points out that one in five Americans sleeps less than six hours a night-a trend that can have serious personal health consequences. Sleep deprivation increases the risk for a number of health problems, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And sleeping in on the weekend wont help you recover from lost sleep. There isnt room in this column to cover Harvard Healths suggestions of ways to get more quality sleep, but the internet is full of such advice, some of it useful.

After many years of marriage, my wife finally said to me the other day, You certainly do require a lot of sleep.She was right, but now I can justify it.

Jack Goodhue, management coach, may be contacted at

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