Most people know that our bodies need sleep to stay healthy. A proper amount of sleep is key to maintaining brain and body function.
Experts recommend that:
But how many of us really get this amount of sleep, especially school children with their heavy workload and extra-curricular activities?
According to Professor Mathew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, two-thirds of adults in the developed world don’t get the World Health Organisation’s recommended 8 hours of sleep.
As we age the quality and quantity of sleep worsens. This happens because the brain circuitry that controls sleep slowly begins to weaken. By the time we reach 50’s, the average person has lost 50% ability to have restful sleep.
So, how does sleep deprivation really affect our health?
Sleep is very important to immune health. Sleep deprivation harms the immune system, hence we are more likely to fall sick.
A study from the University of Washington in the USA showed that the immune system works best when the body gets enough sleep. Lack of sleep shuts down the movement of white blood cells around the body. These white blood cells fight infection.
Another sleep study found that when sleep-deprived people were given a vaccine, fewer antibodies were produced. So if these sleep-deprived people are then exposed to a virus, they are more likely to get the virus.
Sleep researchers found that a slight change in our regular circadian sleep rhythm can lead to low-level inflammation. Inflammation can worsen chronic diseases such as allergies and asthma. Inflammation can also lead to a poorer response to infection.
If you are going through a period of sleep deprivation due to perhaps, jet lag, burning the midnight oil studying for an exam, working overtime at work, looking after a fretful baby at night, your immune system has likely been weakened. The probability of falling sick with flu and other infections increases. At these times, please take extra care of your immune system.
Sleep affects processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, including your blood sugar, blood pressure and inflammation levels. It also plays a vital role in your body’s ability to heal and repair the blood vessels and heart.
People who don’t sleep enough are more likely to get cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.
Sleep affects hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness. When you lack sleep, your brain reduces leptin which tells you that you've had enough to eat and raises ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite.
Sleep deprivation can also contribute to weight gain by making you feel too tired to exercise. It also prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat. Insulin controls your blood sugar level. Higher insulin levels promote fat storage and increase the risk of diabetes.
Poor decision-making is directly linked to a lack of sufficient rest. It is during sleep that the repair of our brain and bodily functions take place. Sleep deprivation makes your brain exhausted which affects its ability to retain new information, concentrate and problem solve.
People who don't get enough sleep are more likely to feel moody, emotional and quick-tempered. Prolonged sleep deprivation can also lead to anxiety and depression.
Interrupted sleep can affect growth hormone production, especially in children and adolescents. These hormones help build muscle mass and repair cells and tissues.
Many times all you need is a good night's sleep. You'll feel like a new person in the morning. So instead of staying up late to cram in more work or solve that problem, get to sleep early and you'll be way more efficient in the morning once well rested.