Sleep: it’s wonderful stuff. A magic elixir, a miracle cure.
But you probably don’t get enough, right?
Most of us don’t get enough. Even though we’re told constantly that we should be getting eight hours a night, many of us go round permanently tired.
Because in our modern busy culture, it’s easy to send sleep to the back of the queue. You’ve got work to catch up on, or you’ve just got to finish that box set.
But sleep isn’t just key to making us feel alert and preventing eye bags taking over our faces - it’s vital to genuine good health. And going with too little can have worryingly harmful effects.
So in case tonight you’re tempted to watch ‘just one more episode’, we asked the experts what lack of sleep really does to your body and mind.
“We know from our own extensive research that people are simply not setting aside the time they need to get the sleep their body requires,” says Lisa Artis from The Sleep Council.
“The results of our most recent Great British Bedtime report showed that a third of us get by on just five to six hours sleep a night which, for most of us, is not enough to feel or perform at our best,” she adds.
Overall, Harvard Medical School found that those who don’t get enough sleep are 15% more likely to die unnaturally early than those who had good sleep habits.
But long before you get to that stage, the effect of lack of sleep can be felt across spectrum of your health.
Short term sleeplessness
Physical issues can include dizziness, feeling weak or fatigued and lacking the physical energy to perform basic tasks.
You might also notice that you feel extra hungry and get major sugar cravings. This is because your body produces more of the hunger hormone ghrelin to get the energy it needs to operate.
You’re also more likely to fall sick with common colds, infections and the flu. This is because your body builds and supports your immune system while you’re asleep - so if this complicated process is cut short, it won’t be able to fight the bugs.
Your libido could also take a hit.
Plus your skin and eyes might look dull as your body preserves its energy for more essential tasks than keeping them clear.
Mentally, you might notice you have a shorter temper and suffer mood swings. And difficulty concentrating is common.
This all happens because sleep deprivation leaves the brain exhausted and depleted - rendering it unable to perform its normal tasks efficiently.
This can leave you feeling uncharacteristically blue and unable to get excited about things.
All of these are irritating but transient. However, continued sleep deprivation can be incredibly serious for your health.
It’s now well known that lack of sleep can contribute to gaining weight - which can lead to a variety of worrying health conditions.
These include diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even some cancers.
Lack of sleep messes with your hormone production and natural body rhythms, so to combat it, your body will overproduce hormones such as cortisol (stress) and insulin (which helps process sugar), both of which make your body store extra fat you don’t need.
The disrupted insulin can also up your risk of developing type II diabetes.
It can also cause you to feel continually hungry as your body forces you to eat to keep your energy up. But at the same time your ability to make rational decisions about healthy food reduces, further worsening your diet - and your sleep.
Lack of sleep puts the cardiac system under strain too. Those who sleep less often have higher heart rates and blood pressure.
And long-term poor immunity can lead to serious respiratory conditions such as pneumonia.
Studies have also linked lack of sleep to higher rates of Alzheimer’s.
Plus, on a day to day basis, your body has to keep you functioning, despite the lack of sleep. This can lead to hallucinations and micro-sleeps, which can obviously be extremely dangerous, particularly if you’re doing something active such as driving.
Mentally, lack of sleep can be just as harmful.
Depression and anxiety are common side effects of prolonged insomnia. The long-term effects of being unable to concentrate and take on board new things, as well as mood swings and feeling low can really take their toll.
Paranoia and suicidal thoughts can also occur and any underlying mental health concerns are generally exacerbated. For example, sleeplessness can cause a manic episode if you’re prone to them, or bring on a bout of extreme OCD.
Ultimately, sleep is as essential to us as food and water. And while everyone will go through periods of sleepless nights, it’s always worth taking the time to look at your problems with sleep and attempt to fix them for the long haul.
Get tips on how to do that at The Sleep Council, and if you’re really struggling to get your shut eye, head to your GP for help.