UT neuroscientist speaks on importance of sleep

UT professor and neuroscientist Ralph Lydic discussed the effects of a lack of sleep at the Quest Science Forum.

//Photo by Ryan McGill

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At the Quest science forum, held on Friday Feb. 19, UT professor Ralph Lydic spoke to students, faculty and community members about the human body’s need for sleep and the consequences that can result from neglecting what he says should be a priority.

“Sleep is a major risk factor for disease,” Lydic said, “And it’s something we all devalue. It’s something we do to get it over with.”

According to Lydic, everyone has two major sources of disease risk: those genes inherited from our parents and modifiable risk factors that stem from lifestyle choices and behaviors. Sleep is a major component of the second category. Lydic says sleep has an under-recognized significance.

Lydic said it is only recently that people have begun to realize what an impact sleep, or lack thereof, can have on human life. There has only been a national center for sleep research since the 1970s, a relatively short period of time given that humans have lived and slept for 160,000 years.

Lydic reported that approximately 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, of which there are 90 distinct disorders. These various sleep deficiencies can cause all sorts of other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression and even strokes.

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, which affects around 1 in 3 people according to the Sleep Health Foundation. The second most common disorder is sleep apnea, a treatable issue that repeatedly disrupts breathing during sleep.

Lydic spoke extensively on the dangers of getting too little sleep, especially before driving. He says of the 212 million drivers in the US, 24 percent have admitted to dozing off at the wheel on at least one occasion.

One study Lydic cited showed that 17 hours of wakefulness impairs function the same way as having a blood alcohol level of .05. Sleep is also crucial in recovering from an injury and can impact mental health, immune function, metabolism and performance.

Lydic said the creation of the National Sleep Foundation is “a sign that people are finally starting to take sleep seriously.”

The science forum is held every Friday at noon in the Thompson-Boling Cafe. On Feb. 26, there will be a presentation by John Skinner that will discuss pollinator decline.

Featured image by Ryan McGill

Edited by Courtney Anderson