When people think about healthy lifestyles, the topics that most often come to mind are diet and exercise. And for good reason. Getting good nutrition and maintaining an active lifestyle are important predictors of longevity and quality of life, and have been shown to lower disease risk. But increasingly, researchers are recognizing a third, equally important, “Pillar” of human health– sleep.

Image of the Three Pillars of Human Health

Image by Sarah Monroe.

Compared to diet and exercise, our culture undervalues the health benefits of sleep. While eating junk food and lounging on the couch all weekend have become social faux pas, not getting enough sleep is often neutrally accepted as a routine part of work or school, or even something to take pride in as proof of one’s dedication to their professional life. According to Russell Sanna, Executive Director of the Harvard Medical School’s division on sleep medicine, “Sleep is the enemy of capitalism,” since you can’t produce or consume while you sleep.

Yet by neglecting sleep, our culture is missing out on a host of health benefits. Our lab studies how a lack of sleep may exacerbate all sorts of conditions– from Autism spectrum disorder to Alzheimer’s disease. ┬áBy better understanding the health benefits of sleep, we hope to contribute to large-scale conversation about health priorities.