In this day and age we humans are the only species to purposefully deprive ourselves of sleep for no good reason. Throughout the rest of the animal kingdom the only reason an animal would choose to deprive themselves of sleep would be due to starvation. However, in the modern world, with hard to reach work deadlines, excessive screen use and the general ‘work hard play hard’ philosophy we often fail to prioritize getting a decent nights sleep (7 hours per night). By not getting enough sleep we then go into a ‘sleep debt’. If you need 7 hours but only get 5 then you are in 2 hours of sleep debt. The best way to help recover from sleep debt is to take short naps whenever possible and to sleep in longer on the weekends. However research has shown that it can take 4 days to recover from just 1 hour of sleep debt and roughly 9 days to totally eliminate sleep debt! Most of us are aware of the benefits of getting a good nights sleep; feeling refreshed and alert in the morning, having increased levels of concentration and feeling physically recovered from any type of exercise the previous day. However, most of us are unaware of the multitude of detrimental effects a lack of sleep can have on our physical, mental, cardiovascular and brain health alongside many others.
Studies have shown that in males who manage only 5-6 hours sleep per night, testosterone levels are at a level of 10 years their senior. This is simply down to the fact that peak testosterone production occurs during sleep. Stability muscles which are vital for balance and proprioception (the brains awareness of joint position) are shown to fatigue significantly quicker in a sleep deprived individual compared to a well rested individual. This in turn will dramatically increase injury risk even when performing general daily tasks such as cleaning and gardening. On the other end of the scale, athletes who get the recommended 8 hours per night are shown to perform 20-30% better in the morning training session compared to the previous evening’s training session. This indicates that they are significantly more physically prepared compared to their fellow athletes who fall short of the recommended 8 hours sleep per night
With mental health issues on the rise, ensuring you are getting adequate sleep each night is vital. There is a part of the brain called the amygdala which is responsible for triggering negative emotions. Studies involving brain scans and sleep habits have shown increased activity of the amygdala up to 60%. Over time this prolonged activity can increase the risk of a wide range of anxiety disorders and depression. So if you feel you are starting to notice any of these symptoms firstly try looking at how much good quality sleep you are getting each night. A good tip is to avoid scrolling through social media or work documents last thing at night as this can leave you stressed and worried just as you are trying to get into a relaxed state ready for sleep.
This might come as a surprise to hear but adults who regularly only get 6 or less hours of sleep per night pose a 200% increased risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. This is due to the detrimental effect a lack of sleep has on heart rate and blood pressure. When you sleep your blood pressure goes down as you are resting. Being awake for more hours in the day can keep your blood pressure at a higher rate potentially placing increased stress on your heart. Staying up late in to the evening can also have an indirect impact on heart health due to the poor lifestyle options that are easily made at night like tucking into crisps or ice cream whilst watching that late night movie….
Unsurprisingly, sleep deprivation, especially when at a chronic level, creates a nosedive in the brains ability to perform at optimal levels. Studies have shown that both cognitive and physical functions after being awake for 20 hours are at the same level as someone who is legally drunk. So you wouldn’t want to be driving or making important decisions with only 4 hours sleep! During sleep your body will be detoxifying many different metabolic by-products with one of these being Beta amyloid. There have been strong links in the research between the toxin Beta amyloid and the development of Alzheimers disease. Frequently not getting enough sleep will mean that your body isn’t able to detoxify toxins as efficiently as a well rested individual. Something to think about, both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan boasted the fact that they only needed 4-5 hours sleep per night however were sadly struck down with the devastating illness of Alzheimers.
Modern Day Lifestyles
Melatonin, commonly known as the sleep hormone should normally rise in production in the evening as the natural light diminishes. However the excessive artificial light we are exposed to in the form of mobile phones, laptops and televisions can inhibit the production of melatonin preventing us falling into a natural healthy sleep. Studies have shown that iPad use for 1 hour before going to bed compared to reading a book delays melatonin peak by 3 hours and reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep by 50%. A helpful way to combat this is with the use of blue blocker glasses. Research has concluded that teenagers using blue blocker glasses whilst using screens in the evening will have significantly higher levels of melatonin compared to those wearing clear glasses. Most of us either need or enjoy a coffee or tea in the morning to get us going for the day. Caffeine works by affectively blocking adenosine receptors which build up in our brains and make us feel tired. This is why having a hit of caffeine will perk you up and give you the feeling of alertness for a short while. However the half life of caffeine is around 5 hours so having a coffee at 4pm will result in 50% of the caffeine still in your system at 9pm making it significantly harder for your brain to switch off and send you to sleep.
Actions to help towards a healthy sleep:
- It is difficult to ‘catch up’ on lost sleep but by having some regularity with going to bed and waking at the same time throughout the week will help optimise your sleep and reduce sleep debt.
- Try to avoid screen exposure at least 1 hour before going to bed and also switch off half of the lights in your house if possible. If working or gaming try blue blocker glasses to help attenuate melatonin suppression.
- Avoiding being too full or too hungry when going to bed. Also try to avoid foods high in carbohydrates and sugars otherwise they can contribute to a fragmented, disturbed sleep
- Avoid caffeine after midday and also alcoholic night caps
- Avoid sleeping tablets whenever possible as the sedation from them can inhibit the normal metabolic process of sleep
- If you struggle to unwind and get off to sleep then there are plenty of free meditation and sleep aid apps available which can help to clear the mind and relax.