There are a million reasons why we go to bed late. Maybe you’re up finishing that big college project, or rocking a teething baby? Or perhaps you’re renovating that new apartment or binge watching your favorite Netflix show? In today’s fast-paced society, there’s always something to do and more often than not, I’m sure you’re up doing it. If you’re one of the people putting sleep on the back burner, you’re not alone. Sleep affects how we look, feel and perform on a daily basis, and can have a major impact on our overall quality of life. Unfortunately, in the last 50 years, people have increasingly limited the amount of sleep they get each night. The average American is only clocking about five hours of sleep a night during the work week as opposed to the recommended eight hours per night. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2016 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, one in three adults don’t get enough sleep each night which can lead to harmful physical and emotional problems, car crashes, and workplace accidents.
Sleep and your Physical Health
While you’re asleep, your body is taking the time to rest, recover and rebuild so it can perform well the next day. By healing damaged cells, boosting your immune system, and recharging your heart and cardiovascular system for the next day, your body is able to get the reboot it needs to wake up feeling refreshed and alert for your daily activities. If you neglect your sleep schedule and begin collecting a sleep deficit, it can start wreaking havoc on your physical system, potentially leading to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
A lack of sleep also greatly impacts your body’s own little army, your immune system. Your immune system serves as your body’s defense mechanism, protecting you from foreign invaders looking to divide and conquer. Without proper sleep, your immune system can become weakened and have trouble fighting off invaders. This can cause you to get sick more often and suffer through a slower recovery time when you do.
When you forget to count those sheep each night, your circadian rhythms get out of sync and begin to harm your hormone levels. Hormones regulate everything from your menstrual cycle to your hunger levels. For example, when your body doesn’t get enough sleep, it can disrupt your body’s ability to know when it’s hunger levels are satisfied. The hormones responsible for making you feel full or hungry (leptin and ghrelin respectively) can get out of sync when you’re sleep deprived, causing you to feel hungrier than you should. Sleep can also affect the insulin, a hormone in your body, responsible for keeping your blood sugar level in check sometimes resulting in diabetes. If that’s not enough damage, hormones that regulate fertility can impact your ability to conceive a child.
If you haven’t been sleeping, you also might notice the numbers on the scale slowly creeping up. According to The National Institute of Health (NIH), short sleepers on average consumed 500 more calories a day than those people of the same age who slept 7 hours each night. If you’re one of these night feeders, you might be packing in extra calories when reaching for carbohydrates to boost your energy level. You may also be too tired to exercise in comparison to your well-rested peers. In children, the loss of sleep can affect the function of a region of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite and the release of energy.
These are just some of the reasons why we need to make sleep a top priority Sleep is one of the pillars of health and is critical for your physical well-being. If you’re getting less than the recommended amount of sleep, make it a priority to shut down your computer, turn off the lights and get to bed an hour early tonight.
Sleep and your Emotional Well-Being
If you’re feeling frazzled and stressed or groggy because you are suffering from poor sleep, it’s hard to remember that your emotional wellbeing is just as important as your physical health. A lack of sleep can put you in an all-around bad mood which can cast a shadow on all of your daily activities. Nobody wants to hang out with Oscar the Grouch but when you don’t have enough time to complete your sleep cycles or wake up before they are complete, you can’t help but wake up feeling grumpy and tired.
The link between sleep and mood has been documented by researchers and has shown that roughly 90 percent of people suffering from depression have sleep problems. Generally, these problems include getting less sleep than usual, difficulty falling asleep (often because of lying in bed with thoughts going round in your head), frequently waking up during the night, waking early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep.
Even if people with depression do get a reasonable number of hours’ sleep, they often wake in the morning feeling ‘un-refreshed’ and experiencing tiredness throughout the day.
Certain sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), have been linked with depression. People with depression are five times more likely to suffer from OSA (the most common form of sleep disordered breathing) and women with OSA, in particular, are more likely to be treated for depression than men. Insomnia is also very common among those with depression (and those with OSA) with evidence suggesting that insomniacs have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well.
Speak to your healthcare professional if you are experiencing symptoms of depression and these are stopping you from sleeping, or if your inability to get to sleep, and stay asleep, is starting to make you feel down.
Sleep and your Productivity
A Harvard University study shows that by getting only five hours of sleep a night, you can adversely affect your brain’s ability to remember important information. Sleeplessness can lead to encoding failure which manifests in behaviors such as forgetting where you left your keys or the date of a birthday party you’re supposed to attend. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that these same neurobehavioral effects can also impact your attention and reaction time. Children and teenagers may be at the highest risk for memory problems because they need greater amounts of sleep while their body is still growing.
Sleep and your Overall Health
While some physical effects, like obesity and cancer, can take many years to reach their peak, sleeplessness is a major cause of concern for sudden disasters, workplace hazards, and car accidents. In fact, driving while sleepy has been proven to be just as bad as driving drunk. Sleep deprivation can be found in history as the underlying cause for disasters like the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill, and the Bhopal, India gas tragedy. All of these avoidable accidents occurred because employees that worked far too many hours were sleep-deprived.
If you’re a long-haul trucker or a medical care worker, you’re at a particularly high risk for accidents because of the long hours you put in each day. The NIH reports that almost 20 percent of all serious car crash injuries in the general population are associated with driver sleepiness with no alcohol involved. A large percentage of personal injuries in the workplace and fatalities are also due to daytime sleepiness. The NIH says workers who report snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness, or have sleep apnea, are twice as likely to be involved in workplace accidents. Sleep is not only important to the daily function of your organs but also allows you to stay alert and focused. Spend some time discovering what may be keeping you from sleeping and make sure to make sleep your top priority.
By knowing what’s causing you to be restless, you can come up with a plan to counter the effects of sleep deprivation. Sweet slumber is a necessity to your life and helps your body grow, repair tissue, replenish cells and restore energy. Something so vitally important to your everyday life and your overall longevity is nothing to take lightly. Get to sleep early and often. Happy snoozing!
Center for Disease control and Prevention, 1 in 3 Adults Don’t Get Enough Sleep.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Why is Sleep Important?
Tsuno N, Besset A, Ritchie K. (2005) Sleep and Depression. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 66 (10), 1254-69.
Ohayon M. (2003) The Effects of Breathing-Related Sleep Disorders on Mood Disturbances in the General Population. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 64(10), 1195-200.
Luyster, F. Buysse F, Strollo P (2010) Comorbid Insomnia and Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Challenges for Clinical Practice and Research. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 6(2), 196-204.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Why is Sleep Important?
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Sleep and Memory.
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Benefits of Sleep.