Along with a good diet and regular exercise, sleep is the third pillar for achieving good health and well-being.
The immediate effects of lack of sleep are apparent- grumpiness, tiredness, grogginess, and poor concentration. These issues can easily be fixed by getting a couple of hours of shut-eye.
Essential body and brain recharging functions happen while we sleep, which makes snoozing one of the most critical determinants of health. Scientific studies show that the average adult needs about 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
Yet, due to illness, stress, poor lifestyle choices, unhealthy sleep hygiene (such as using electronic gadgets in bed), we end up getting less than the required sleep.
Unfortunately, continued sleep deprivation can have detrimental health implications.
What does lack of sleep do?
- It Weakens Immunity
The immune system is the body’s defence against illness and disease. Studies have linked lack of sleep with inadequate response to and slow recovery from illness. During sleep, for instance, the immune system produces substances called cytokines, which increase when you have an inflammation, infection, or are under stress. Sleep deprivation reduces the number of cytokines produced, lowering your immune response.
- It accelerates weight gain
Poor sleep can have a detrimental effect on your weight. If you are trying to lose those pounds, then you should make adequate sleep one of your focus strategies.
If you are wondering how the two are connected, sleep deprivation affects leptin and ghrelin, the two hormones associated with hunger and appetite. Leptin is responsible for regulating appetite and supports the conversion of fat in body cells. Ghrelin, or the hunger hormone, lets us know that we are hungry.
When you are sleep deprived, research shows that leptin levels go down, while ghrelin goes up. This causes you to feel hungry (perhaps more than usual), with your satiety checker unable to detect that you are full. This not only causes you to overeat but makes you crave carbohydrates and sugars.
And it does not stop there as sleep deprivation affects your ability to make good decisions ‘Oh, I better not have that piece of cake…ahh, it won’t hurt, will it, right?” Specifically with regards to the foods we should be avoiding.
- It can trigger chronic illnesses
Lack of adequate sleep can leave you susceptible to conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and even heart disease.
Sleep aids in the regulation of stress hormones, such as cortisol.
Lack of sleep also interferes with the body’s production of insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar. When the body produces less insulin, but more cortisol, it keeps you awake and also maintains high amounts of blood sugar, putting you at risk of type two diabetes.
- It affects your moods
Lack of sleep can accelerate negative moods, making you grumpy and irritable.
This can cause you to continually snap at your workmates or family, causing a strain in relationships.
If unchecked, lack of sleep can escalate to mood disorders like depression and anxiety. A study was done at the University of Pennsylvania in the USA to test how insufficient sleep affects moods. It found that people who had only 4.5 hours of sleep per night for one week were ‘stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted.’
- It lowers cognitive abilities
Cognitive abilities are brain skills that we rely on to perform various day to day activities. These can include memory, attention, concentration, focus, processing, and reasoning. Lack of sleep can significantly lower alertness and attention to detail, hurting your performance at work. For students, sleep deprivation can impair the ability to learn efficiently as well as memory.
- It can cause accidents
If you have had little or no sleep, getting behind a wheel could be a recipe for disaster. The UK Government road campaign THINK! confirms that sleep-related accidents are more likely than others to cause fatalities or injury.
According to THINK, a driver who falls asleep behind the wheel will have tried fighting it off for a while, unsuccessfully. Similarly, a study reported in Science Daily shows that people who have slept fewer than seven out of 24 hours have ‘higher odds’ of being involved in car crashes.
- It lowers libido
As seen, lack of sleep can cause anxiety and mood changes. This, in turn, affects libido. When the body is sleep-deprived, it responds by producing stress hormones like cortisol and lowering the production of sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.
When you are fatigued, moody, and angry from lack of sleep, it is difficult to get into the mood for sex. Similarly, if you are anxious and depressed, other side effects of poor sleep, you are unlikely to find a mood to the occasion.
As seen, it is evident that adequate sleep is fundamental for good health. Lack of sleep interferes with numerous bodily functions and robs us of optimal living.
The obvious cure to sleep deprivation is getting enough sleep. This can be aided by cultivating healthy sleep habits such as going to bed at a similar time each evening, even at the weekend, not using electronic gadgets in bed, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine in the late afternoon, evening.
If you still have a difficult time falling asleep, you might want to try yoga, meditation, exercise, reduce alcohol intake, blackout curtains (or an eye mask) take a bath…we say try it all! Achieving good healthy sleep is worth making the effort to try and find out what routine works for you!
Considering the challenges of modernity such as tight schedules, constant stress, and uncertainties such as those caused by COVID-19, it may not always be easy to get quality sleep. Not sure it is needed?
You can also try a dietary supplement such as Neuro Night 5-HTP+, formulated with vitamins, minerals, and herbs to help promote deep restorative sleep. It is designed to relax the body and mind, calming the nervous system to deliver better mental and physical recovery from the stress and actions of the previous day.
If you still cannot enjoy quality sleep even after making the above adjustments, you should consult a specialist.