Having a good night’s sleep is essential to our emotional and physical wellbeing.
Many studies illustrate the health impact between good sleepers and bad sleepers, in a nutshell – those who get the recommended amount of ‘forty winks’ per night are generally healthier, and besides, they have better social lives.
Why sleep is so important
The average human spends about 26 years of their life sleeping, and roughly 7 years trying to get to sleep.
Medical professionals have learned that when a person gets less than 6-7 hours sleep a night, they are at greater risk of developing a disease. The health benefits of having a good night’s kip are endless. Sleep is known to:
- Reduce stress
- Reduce inflammation in the body
- Make you smarter and increases concentration levels
- Help the body to repair and heal itself
- Keep the heart-healthy
Getting the right amount of zzz’s every night is also imperative when it comes to weight control and the ability to regulate our emotions, as well as improving our social skills.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to obesity according to health officials, as studies show that a lack of sleep can cause up to 2lb of weight gain in just two weeks. The results from one particular study showed that:
- Those who were sleep-deprived skipped breakfast but ate more snacks
- Participants who only had 5 hours of sleep a night gained 2lb in one week
- The lack of sleep slowed the metabolism and caused the body to burn fewer calories
Interestingly, when participants changed their sleep patterns back to normal they ate fewer carbohydrates and fatty foods and were able to lose the weight they had gained.
The impact of bad sleep
Chronic sleep -restrictions can cause adverse effects on the brain and, in other cases, can cause cognitive impairment in some people.
Long-term sleeplessness can have a detrimental effect on the brain and the physical body, and in extreme cases, can even lead to death. Sleep deprivation can:
- Cause serious health problems
- Make a person appear less smart
- Cause memory loss and forgetfulness
- Kill the sex drive
- Increase a person’s risk of death
Sleeplessness can also be a contributory factor behind:
Research shows that people who work long hours, such as those who do shift-based work, or people that work overnight, are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than those who work normal hours during the day. Essentially, those working longer hours are more prone to having car accidents due to drowsiness.
Worryingly, one in eight drivers have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel and government statistics show that in 2019, due to tiredness (and other factors) 462 people were seriously injured on Britain’s roads with a reported 62 deaths.
There is a strong link between not getting enough sleep and being at risk of obesity, recent studies show. A longitudinal study conducted over 16 years on around 60,000 nurses working in the health industry, showed that at the start of the study, the women were healthy and were not obese.
However, fast forward to 16 years later, and the women who slept less than 5 hours per night, were up to 15 per cent more at risk of becoming obese than those who slept 7 hours a night.
Depression and anxiety
Approximately 15 percent of adults suffer from insomnia, mounting up to the same figure as those who suffer depression. Both depression and insomnia can be synonymous with one another, for example, when someone is depressed they are likely to sleep either too much or too little.
Up to 15 percent of people suffering from depression sleep too much, while 80 percent either have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. People experiencing long-term insomnia are up to three times more likely to develop depression as a result.
The science behind sleep
Scientists believe that a lack of sleep can cause problems in brain function and that the part of the brain that controls memory, sense of time and planning can practically shut down without sufficient amounts of sleep.
When individuals are awake for 17 hours or more, for example, it can lead to a serious decrease in performance levels, equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 per cent (or two glasses of wine).
Equally, sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea) are known to cause a person to sleep during the day and have been linked to high blood pressure and stress.
How sleep impacts our social lives
Dutch neuroscientist T.W. Boonstra highlighted the impact that sleeplessness can have on the brain and our ability to remain social with others.
Boonstra demonstrated that sleep deprivation increases the levels of adenosine, in the brain, a chemical that makes the brain less responsive, suppresses arousal and promotes sleepiness.
Essentially, when people do not get enough sleep, the brain chemicals affected makes them less responsive to the outside world resulting in unsociability.
A lack of sleep impacts specific brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex (which is a part of the brain responsible for complex thinking and emotions). When the functioning of the prefrontal cortex is compromised, it produces inappropriate and abnormal behaviours towards others, as well as poor decision making.
Sleep deprivation can also impact how sensitive and understanding we are towards others, according to a study published in Current Biology. When people are sleep deprived, the emotional centres in the brain tend to overreact to negativity, making it challenging for them to have positive interaction with others.
Essentially, sleep gives us the neural equipment we need to pick up on emotional cues from others, and how to socially respond to them.
Getting the right amount of sleep can improve our social lives in the following 5 ways:
- Getting enough sleep improves our perception skills making it easier for us to socialize, it also increases our ability to read emotional cues from others
- Sleep dramatically improves our health which means that we feel more confident in our ability to make new friends, engage in a new hobby, or take part in regular exercise such as going to the gym or joining a running club. Essentially, the more we sleep, the better we feel, and this also increases our self-esteem
- Getting sufficient amounts of sleep helps us to form social bonds as our brain chemicals remain unaffected and are fired up to be more responsive, empathetic and sensitive towards others
- Sleep increases our ability to make better decisions since those who get adequate amounts of sleep don’t tend to experience irregularities in brain function due to sleeplessness, they often possess sharp decision-making skills and the ability to make clear judgements, leading to more positive experiences both at home and at work
- Getting good amounts of sleep increases our sex drive resulting in more rewarding interpersonal relationships. Couples with healthy sex lives tend to be happier and more connected to one another
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