We all wake up in the morning to the dreaded noise of our alarms, pleading desperately for just ‘five more minutes’. But could five more minutes actually make a difference? I guess this is something that varies from person to person, but if five more minutes is able to help you prepare for the day ahead, then what could an hour or two of extra sleep do?
Studies have shown that the small gap between getting enough sleep and getting too little sleep can affect your health, mood, weight, and cognitive skills. Yes, this does mean that if you are cranky in the mornings, the likelihood is that you aren’t getting enough sleep – although some of us just aren’t morning people!
Okay, so getting enough sleep isn’t going to ensure perfect health and immunity from diseases, but various studies have shown that an insufficient amount of sleep is linked to a variety of serious health problems. These include: heart disease, diabetes, heart attacks and obesity. So you could be reducing your risk of these conditions just by going to bed an hour or two earlier. For example, diabetes is associated with sleep as a lack of it may actually affect the way that your body processes glucose, which is the high-energy carbohydrate used by cells for fuel.
Lack of sleep can also have an affect on your immune system and make you unable to fight off bugs easily. Don’t worry, an occasional night without enough sleep may make you feel irritable the next day, but it isn’t going to affect your health unless the occasional night without enough sleep turns into every night. It has also been shown that if you have chronic or acute pain from a recent injury, getting enough sleep might actually make you hurt less. There have been numerous studies that have linked insufficient sleep with a lower pain threshold, although pain can sometimes prevent sleep too.
I’m sure from personal experience; most people will already know that the amount of sleep we get has a huge impact on our mood. Sleeping more won’t guarantee us a sunny disposition, however it will boost our general mental well being. It does not come as much of a surprise that chronic lack of sleep can lead to long term mood disorders such as anxiety and depression when one bad nights sleep can make someone melancholy and ill-tempered the next day. When people with anxiety and depression were surveyed to see whether or not their sleeping habits were good, it showed that the majority slept for less than six hours per night. According to the National Institute of Health, the average adult sleeps for less than seven hours per night. However, while sleep requirements may vary from individual, it has been said that most healthy adults need between seven and a half and nine hours sleep to function at their best.
According to Reader’s Digest, sleepless nights don’t just ruin your mood, they can also damage your waistline. Getting enough sleep can help you maintain your weight, whereas too little sleep may make you gain weight. Researchers at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Centre at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital found that sleep-deprived people seem to burn the same number of calories as those who are well rested, however they consume around 300 more calories per day. Part of this problem is behavioural: if you are tired it may mean that cooking is too much of an effort, so the famous phrase, “lets just get a takeaway” may crop up. It may also make you too tired to do activities which you would normally do from day to day such as walking to work, going to the gym and walking the dog. The other part is physiological as sleep loss causes our bodies to release more of the hormone that tells us we are hungry and less hormone that tells our stomachs that we are full. With the hormones being slightly imbalanced, our body wants more food and it lacks sensitivity to know when to stop eating. People with less sleep have less energy so tend to crave the foods that are high in fat and calories.
While sleeping more helps to make our thinking clearer, lack of sleep impairs our cognition and makes us less focused. Studies have found that people who are sleep-deprived are substantially worse at solving mathematical and logical problems compared to those that are well rested. Other studies and tests have also shown that sleep deprivation can be dangerous; sleep-deprived individuals tested using a driving simulator tend to perform as badly or worse than those who are intoxicated. This is all down to being less focused and having a reduced attention span; it is also due to there being more clutter in our brains. It turns out that, when we sleep, our brain takes the time to remove all of the ‘junk’ and ‘clutter’ that the brain produces throughout the day. The brain has its own garbage men, carried in cerebrospinal fluid, who deliver the waste product, produced by cells, to the liver. These so-called garbage men move twice as fast when we are sleeping due to the fact that our neurons shrink by half, allowing the fluid channels to widen.
So, if you’re thinking about staying up until the early hours of the morning playing on the Xbox, watching Netflix or flicking through your Facebook and Instagram feeds, remember what that extra couple of hours sleep could do for your body.