The importance of sleep is well documented, and research has shown that the length of time we sleep for and the quality of the sleep we get is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing. On the other hand, those who regularly don’t get enough sleep every 24 hours are susceptible to a host of adverse medical and mental dysfunctions that have the potential to hinder the performance of even the most simple and mundane of tasks, never mind the more complex assignments we may face while at work or study.
According to a 2018 report by Chemist4U, the average adult in the UK sleeps for between 5.78 and 6.83 hours a night. This means that people are consistently missing out on the recommended amount of 8 hours of sleep a night by more than 100 minutes. This adds up to a staggering amount of time when totalled over a lifetime period.
There are lots of reasons to consider how long you sleep for each night and why you should look to create long-lasting sleep habits as a means of enhancing your physical and psychological wellbeing. Here are some of the most significant:
Sleep improves the ability to concentrate
Schoolchildren are frequently taught about the importance of getting the right amount of quality sleep and that an inadequate level of rest will hinder their aptitude, both in general life as well as in the classroom. Studies have shown that tiredness and fatigue are signs that the neurons in the brain have become strained and need some respite, just as enervated muscles do after an intense period of exercise.
Overworked neurons slow themselves down, causing delayed behavioural responses that negatively influence memory and visual perception. This includes adverse effects on an individual’s alertness and their ability to concentrate, as logical reasoning and capacity to process complex ideas are hampered as the brain cannot work at the rate it would do under normal circumstances. This is why reinforcing the value of a good night’s sleep is so important.
Increases muscle growth
According to HFE, high-quality sleep is crucial for those who undergo regular physical activity, as during sleep, cells and tissue damaged during training are repaired and muscle growth occurs as a result of protein synthesis.
During sleep, the body uses dietary protein, as well as free amino acids, or those from other protein tissues to build and repair muscles that have been damaged during intense training. Specifically, during the NREM (non-rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, blood flow to the muscles increases and the process of reparation intensifies. Without enough sleep, the body loses this crucial time it needs to recuperate.
Poor sleep is linked to weight gain
There are two neurotransmitters that the body uses to regulate feelings contributing to hunger and feeling full: ghrelin and leptin. Lack of sleep affects the body’s ability to properly balance the transmission of these two neurotransmitters, skewing the amounts your body thinks it needs to produce.
For example, people who don’t sleep for long enough are more likely to produce more ghrelin and less leptin than normal, meaning an individual will feel hungry more often throughout the day. This is one way that insufficient sleep can cause overeating and lead to unnecessary weight gain.
For adults, regularly getting the recommended 7-9 hours’ sleep a night is the best way to ensure that your ghrelin and leptin levels remain at the correct level to avoid hormonal imbalance and lower the risk of coronary heart disease.
Sleep depravity changes our appetite
Lack of sleep doesn’t just increase our appetite either; it alters the types of food that we then may want to consume. Studies have shown that a sleep-deprived brain will orient toward more primal urges of desire and motivation, and veer away from needs supported by logic and reason.
A tired mind is more likely to exhibit impulsive behaviour, giving in to desires for junk food and the like. For instance, a person suffering from sleep deprivation may be more inclined to eat unhealthy foods simply because it is easier and more convenient to do so.
Insufficient sleep decreases motivation to exercise
The less we sleep, the faster we begin to feel fatigued during the day, and when weary from a lack of sleep, there is often less motivation to take part in physical activity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that humans undergo roughly 30 minutes of some form of exercise every day, whether that be running, walking, a workout at the gym etc. but if an individual is consistently sleep deprived, they are far more likely to skip their scheduled workouts, missing out on regular, required exercise as the body is simply too tired to do so. If this occurs repeatedly, it can lead to serious health implications.
Low-quality sleep linked to higher chance of heart disease/stroke
During sleep, heart rate slows, breathing steadies and blood pressure falls. This allows the heart to recover from the stress it has been under while you were awake. As a result of little and low-quality sleep, health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke have a much higher chance of developing as the heart isn’t given enough time to fully convalesce and recharge.
It is the indirect impacts of poor sleep that are considered to be the main threat to a healthy heart; reduced physical activity, poor choice of diet and higher stress levels are what will cause the onset of the aforementioned conditions, all as a result of insufficient sleep. Lack of sleep has also been linked with rises in the production of certain chemicals that increase the chance of inflammation, which again puts extra strain on the heart.
For more information check out the interview with elite sleep coach Nick Littlehales to learn about the importance of creating a sleep paradigm shift, and consider reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, and The Sleep Revolution by Amanda Huffington. All three are considered excellent sources of information regarding sleep’s relationship with overall health.