Sleep deprivation goes beyond just feeling tired and grumpy; consistently missing out on the recommended 8 hours per night of sleep poses a number of harmful effects on the body and put a risk on your physical and mental health. To understand sleep deficiency, it is important to understand what happens to our body when we sleep and the importance of it.
Importance of Sleep
Sleep is extremely important for both our mental and physical health, quality of life. Sleep is an important aspect of human life, just like breathing, eating and drinking. Sleep is beneficial for various aspects of our brain function including performance, productivity and concentration. Good sleep can maximise our ability to retain information, improve problem solving abilities and enhance our memory. It plays an important role on our physical health by maintaining a healthy balance of hormones in our body that make us hungry so our ghrelin and leptin hormones are controlled reducing the risk of being overweight or obese. Regular sleep improves the immune system function protecting us against harmful or foreign substances so we are less likely to get ill. Not only that, but sleep is vital for us to be able to function in our day-to-day lives as we are more attentive, make less mistakes and able to be more productive.
Sleep deprivation interferes with your day to day life, as you may find it trouble focusing in school or work and can cause a lapse in judgement. It has played a role in road accidents and puts you at risk of harming yourself and others around you.
Who is at risk of sleep deprivation?
- People whose schedules conflict with their sleeping pattern such as shift workers, first responders, people who travel regularly for work.
- Lifestyle choices including abusing drugs and alcohol, taking medicines which keep people awake.
- People who suffer from sleep disorders, stress or anxiety
Sleeping 5 hours or less each night can lead to:
- High blood pressure
People who sleep less than 5 hours a night put themselves at risk of high blood pressure. Sleep regulates your stress hormones, so a lack of sleep over time will hinder the body’s ability to regulate the stress hormones, increasing blood pressure.
- Weight gain
Lack of sleep can cause changes to the hormones that regulate your hunger and appetite by reducing leptin levels (the hormone which suppresses hunger) and increasing ghrelin levels, inducing hunger. It also changes the types of food we are interested in and the body starts to crave more unhealthy foods saturated in fat and sugar.
- Risk of diabetes
Your body will produce less insulin and more cortisol (stress inducing hormone), meaning there will be too much glucose in your system which increases the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. When you are tired, you are less likely to exercise which means your blood sugar levels are not controlled.
- Risk of heart disease
Sleep deprivation may increase the risk of high blood pressure and higher levels of chemicals which induce inflammation and cardiovascular problems, all of which contribute to heart disease.
- Aging skin
Cortisol breaks down the skin’s collagen (the protein that keeps your skin looking young) leading to dull skin complexion, fine lines, dark under eye circles and reduced skin elasticity.
- Lack of concentration
Sleep deprivation impairs the ability to learn and concentrate on tasks, causing our performance to decrease. Poor sleep compromises memory and it is harder to recall memories or create new ones.
- Change in mood
After consistent sleepless nights, you are more likely to be short tempered, irritable and prone to stress. People suffering from sleep deprivation are linked with greater emotional reactivity enhancing negative emotions.
- Lower sex drive
The body is more stressed without sleeping well so the production of cortisol increases and supresses oestrogen and testosterone decreasing a person’s sex drive.
How to catch up on missed sleep
- Sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
- Avoid any technology an hour before you plan to go to sleep. The light from mobile phones and the TV could signal your brain to stay awake.
- Take a hot bath before bed.
- Avoiding caffeine and nicotine as they are both stimulants which can disrupt your sleep.
- Try do incorporate some physical exercise in your daily routine.