There’s no doubt that most of us know that a good night’s sleep is vital for our health. When we are not sleeping enough, we know all about it. Your body stops performing at maximum capacity and you seem to constantly feel like you’re running on empty. Despite knowing this, too many of us still don’t seem to get enough of it and many experts say that sleeping is as important as diet and exercise.
If you might think that just one night of too little or bad quality sleep won’t really do much harm, you’d be wrong. Bad sleep has an immediate negative effect on the body. And lack of sleep can cause hormone imbalances, reduce exercise performance ability and even reduce brain function. The better the quality, the better the quality of your day.
How much do we need?
When it comes to sleeping, the personal difference really does factor in. You might need less sleep than other people. Your age can also play an important role as far as how much sleep you need. The National Sleep Foundation generally advises between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night for adults. This is traditionally known as the ideal amount of sleep you could get. It is worth noting that babies, children, and younger teens generally require more sleep.
But the amount of sleep needed can vary widely from person to person. And then of course there’s the fact that there is no doubt a difference between sufficient and optimal amounts of sleep. The amount of sleep you’re getting may suffice but does not allow for optimal brain and body function. That’s not to say that you can’t function of very little sleep for a limited amount of time. You definitely can – the reality though is that you shouldn’t.
What happens to your body when we are sleeping too little?
Whilst it might not seem like a big deal to live off coffee and barely sleep for a few days, it can be very detrimental to your health. This is especially true in the long term. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Heart attack
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
And according to some experts, as many as 90% of people that struggle with insomnia also have another, associated chronic health condition. Over and above that, too little sleep can also lead to grumpiness, mental fog, and an increased risk of accidents. Lack of sleep can also decrease your sex drive, cause depression, age your skin and even severely impair your judgment.
Stress, Sleeping and The Effect on Longevity
What is stress?
There are many causes of stress and it affects all people in different ways. All kinds of stress can have a negative impact on your mental health. In fact, “people affected by work-related stress lose an average of 24 days of work due to ill health”. When it comes to stress and sleep, the two are intertwined as one tends to feed off the other. Too much stress can lead to a lack of sleep but equally, too little sleep causes stress in the body.
Too little sleep might cause burnout
A lack of sleep can also contribute to burnout, which is at ‘crisis level’ amongst workers in the US, especially healthcare workers. And it’s no surprise that the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t help. Though many workplaces have instituted stress management and wellness programs, they appear to help very little when it comes to burnout. The reality is that it’s likely too little too late for most. Essentially, it treats the symptoms but fails to address the issue at its core.
So, could too little sleep be the issue?
Though it’s as yet unconfirmed scientifically, many experts think that sleep does have a large impact on burnout. Though many of those doctors do mention that it’s largely a case of the chicken and the egg in that nobody is entirely sure which is the cause and which is the result. If sleep is an issue, then that can be addressed by institutions. Especially those that do have long hours for employees.
Not sleeping well
A recent survey found that a massive 42% of adults report that their sleep quality is at best and fair. And 43% admitted that stress was what kept them awake at night. Many of the participants in the survey also reported that their stress levels felt higher when they weren’t getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, it seems that the less sleep you get, the worse the ramifications. Sleeping less than 8 hours a night (for most people) results in an increase in irritability, a lack of motivation, and a severe decrease in energy.
High-stress environments suffer even more as their brains can’t shut down enough to relax and succumb to sleep. 49% of adults that work in a high-stress environment admitted that “they are not getting enough because their minds race”.
Too little sleep might cut your life short
As far as longevity goes, not getting enough sleep might well result in a shorter life. Though sleep deprivation wouldn’t actually kill you sooner in and of itself, the associated diseases that result from it might well affect your longevity. We tend to overlook what a lack of sleep can do to our bodies. Not only will you feel tired, struggle to concentrate, and have less energy, but you might also increase your chance of medical conditions.
These could include obesity, diabetes, and even cardiovascular disease. Too little, because it has such dire consequences for your energy, can also lead to a lack of exercise. This can, in the long term, result in obesity which can lead to chronic and deadly diseases. Too little sleep can also negatively affect your immune system. This can make you more likely to become sick.
Why you should do your best to get a good night’s sleep
Attention and Concentration
Sleeping well and getting the proper amount of rest can help you keep your energy levels up. It can also help to keep your mind focused on the task at hand throughout the day. When you haven’t had enough sleep, your attention span, ability to concentrate, and even risk assessment and reaction times can be affected.
Maintain a healthy weight
You’re more likely to crave sugar to boost your energy when you aren’t sleeping enough. Your body naturally needs more energy when you’re awake for longer.
When you are tired, you’re more likely to choose unhealthy foods which are high in sugar to boost your energy levels. Some research even suggests that “being sleep-deprived changes the level of hormones that signal hunger and fullness in your body”
Keep your heart healthy
Not sleeping can increase your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. Essentially, when you need to wake up, your body activates your cardiovascular system to increase blood pressure. When you wake up often, your body triggers the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When this happens in tandem, the body can’t compensate for the rise in blood pressure.
Your blood pressure can remain higher than normal and increase your risk of stroke or coronary heart disease. Poor sleep is also linked to poor insulin regulation in the body. The body becomes unable to properly regulate your blood sugar. When your blood sugar levels in the blood rise, it puts you at risk of developing diabetes. A good night’s sleep can also help boost the immune system, reduce stress levels, boost mental health and even aid with learning and remembering.
So, how can you improve sleeping and reduce stress?
In order to improve your sleep and reduce stress around your bedtime, try these tips
- Increase your exposure to sunlight during the day to help regulate circadian rhythm
- Reduce blue light exposure in the evening
- Don’t consume caffeinated beverages in the late afternoon and evening
- Avoid long daytime naps
- Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
- Take a melatonin supplement
- Avoid alcohol or reduce alcohol consumption
- Make sure your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature
- Avoid eating late in the evening
- Use relaxation techniques such as meditation to prepare for sleep (you can use an app for this to help you get into meditation)
- Take a relaxing bath or shower to reduce stress and increase relaxation
- Exercise regularly (but not just before bed)
- Reduce your fluid intake just before bed