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Why is Lack of Sleep a Problem?

  • Sep 26, 2019
  • Wellbeing

Person Trying To Fall Asleep In Bed Holding Pillow On Face Struggling With Insomnia

What feels better than a good night’s sleep? By getting enough sleep we should wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. But nowadays sleep can often get neglected even though it is vital to good health.

We need sleep just like we need food and air. Without sleep our body systems and brain don’t function at their best. According to the NHS, 1 in 3 of us suffer from sleep deprivation which directly affects not only our mental and physical health, but also the quality of our waking life. Even minimal sleep loss could take its toll on our general mood and energy levels.

A good night’s sleep is essential for a healthy life – read on to find out how much sleep we should be getting and why it is so important by reading on.

How much sleep should we be getting?

According to the NHS, the average adult should be getting 8 hours sleep per night, but too few of us make those required hours a priority. Although 8 hours is recommended, we cannot say it is what each individual’s needs are different and this can depend on many factors such as our lifestyle, health, age and gender.

The quality of the hours we’re sleeping is just as important. We may be getting our 8 hours, but if the quality is poor, we could still wake up feeling tired and emotional. The quality of our sleep could be what’s affecting our mental and physical health. Here are several things that could be affected by a lack of sleep.

Healthy brain function

One of the main roles of sleep is that it helps consolidate long-term memory. The things we have learned and experienced during the day are becoming embedded in our memory when we sleep. At the same time, sleep is also filtering out all the unwanted and useless information from that day. Therefore, the lack of sleep weakens memory and it also makes learning more difficult and slows down our thought process.

Emotional wellbeing

Sleep deprivation could affect our emotional state and our ability to recognise other people’s emotional expressions. The NHS suggests it could make us more irritable and prone to mood swings. If we find ourselves suffering from a chronic lack of sleep, we could be at a higher risk of depression and anxiety.

Psychology Today links the lack of sleep to our emotional response, causing us to be more impulsive and intense due to our emotions being heightened. When tired, our self-control diminishes which can have consequences on everything from our relationships to our health due to the choices we make in those instances. Our impulsive decisions tend to favour immediate rewards that don’t require long-term thought.

Without sleep we are more likely to have a negative mindset and being sleep deprived for just one night could potentially increase our emotional response to negative feelings by 60%. We could become vulnerable to repetitive negative thinking by having our minds fixed on unpleasant thoughts. On top of this, being sleep deprived can be linked to a lack of empathy meaning that we could struggle to see things from other people’s point of view or to recognise their emotions.

Physical health

If we don’t sleep enough, we prevent our bodies from strengthening our immune system and producing cytokines (proteins that help protect against infections and inflammations), resulting in weaker ability to fight off illness

Long-term sleep deprivation could put us at risk of getting diabetes. Missing out on sleep causes the release of insulin leading to increased fat storage and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Healthline reports that sleep keeps our heart and blood vessels healthy, it helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure and plays a role in our bodies ability to repair these vessels. People who don’t sleep enough could be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

Being sleep deprived can also affect our hormone production, this includes growth hormones and testosterone (for men). Our growth hormones play a key role in growth, cell repair and metabolism, and poor sleep could reduce the amount being produced which could alter their function. Testosterone regulates a male’s fertility, fat distribution and red blood cell production and a lack of sleep has been linked to low testosterone levels which could affect a man’s energy levels, mood and their libido.

Lack of sleep could also cause an increased appetite as it affects the levels of leptin and ghrelin (hormones that control the feelings of hunger and fullness). By adding physical tiredness to this which may prevent us from exercising, we can say that sleep deprivation could also lead to weight gain.

Mental and physical performance

When we don’t get enough sleep, our reaction times slow down. This is because the signals our body send may be delayed, which decreases our coordination. A slower reaction time and being tired could put us at risk of having an accident. Microsleeping can be an effect of sleep deprivation, this is where we can fall asleep briefly without realising and it is not in our control. It can be dangerous when driving and it could make us prone to injuries.

What is affecting our ability to sleep?

Poor sleep hygiene may be the reason many of us are struggling to sleep. This covers our behaviours, habits and choices when it comes to sleeping. Our article Why You Cannot Sleep has some interesting information about this.

The amount of sleep we need varies for each of us, but the NHS recommends that most adults should be aiming for those crucial 8 hours. By getting enough sleep, we will be helping our bodies and minds to function in the way they should.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.