Are you getting enough sleep?
I seriously doubt you are.
Most people in industrialized countries do not sleep enough – and this is even more the case for “productivity junkies”, entrepreneurs and most professional people, especially in competitive fields.
If you want to be more effective and more successful, there’s a high chance that you’ve found it “necessary” to cut back on the amount of sleep you get per night!
After all, to succeed, you’ve got to squeeze the most you can out of the day.
And you’ve read that almost every successful person gets up at the crack of dawn.
Couple that with the fact that the electronic devices you can’t help checking right before trying to sleep are perfect for disrupting your sleep, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Your body clock evolved over thousands of years – who are you kidding that you can ignore your body’s need for sleep?
So, What are the Risks of Insufficient Sleep?
1. Memory Loss
Although you might be telling yourself that you can function on five hours sleep per night, fact is that you won’t be performing at your best. Your focus is going to affected, and you’ll find yourself unable to remember things. This article in WebMD explains what you can expect – basically, there are two ways that lack of sleep can affect learning an memory:
- Lack of sleep impairs your ability to focus and learn
- Sleep is also necessary to “consolidate” learning – meaning that learning doesn’t stick, and becomes difficult or impossible to recall.
This is why pulling an all-nighter to revise for exams is usually less than successful – facts that you may have “learned” at 4am don’t stick!
It’s not fully-known why this is – but it is thought that during sleep, the brain’s hippocampus replays the events of the day for the neocortex (the part of the brain where memories are stored). Here, memories are reviewed and processed , helping them to last for the long term. Current research suggests that different types of memories are consolidated during different stages of your sleep – some during REM (dreaming) and some during deep sleep.
2. Mood Dysfunction
Obviously, you feel better after a good night’s sleep, but do you know how far the negative effects of sleep debt go?
Clue – it’s not just lack of energy, irritability, brain fog and poor motor response.
According to PubMed.gov, sleep debt is strongly associated with emotional instability, anxiety and confusion. It appears that with sleep deprivation comes the inability to react normally to negative emotional stimuli.
As a result, depression, anxiety, anger and stress can all become common-place.
You can see picture of how sleep debt warps emotional response in these images of the brain.
3. Reduced Cognitive Performance
This paper from Pubmed – a compilation of many studies – describes many ways in which mental performance reduces when you are deprived of sleep.
Attention and vigilance are reduced. Don’t expect compliments on your attention to detail! This is partly due to microsleeps – as they sound, these are tiny naps, where your brain momentarily has the same activity as it does when you sleep.
Creative thinking and decision-making are affected after just one night of sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation is also found to affect language tasks and the ability to suppress answers that you may not want to give. This is why you don’t want to be tired in an interview or negotiation – and why sleep deprivation is so effective a part of interrogation.
4. Build-up of Toxins in the Brain
It seems that part of the purpose of sleep is for your brain to do its housework.
Sleep helps the brain to cleanse itself of toxins. It seems that the clearing-out out of potentially neurotoxic waste products is greatly increased when the brain is sleeping, compared to in the waking brain.
Many cells in the brain shrink, during sleep, thus enlarging the spaces between them – and enabling fluids to be pumped around the brain clearing it of waste.
In mice, it has been discovered that this vital “house-keeping” process is ten times more active than when they are awake. A similar study hasn’t yet been commissioned on humans, but the evidence strongly suggests that this is one of the main purposes of sleep.
Diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are both characterized by a build-up of damaged proteins in the brain, so this could be a potential new avenue for research on these condition.
Which brings us to:
5. Alzheimer’s Disease
Although no categorical link has been made between sleep deprivation and the onset of Alzheimer’s, there have been genetic links discovered between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, a great deal of the treatment of Alzheimer’s involves improving sleep of the sufferer, while a large proportion of the symptoms may be connected with sleep.
Enough so that SleepFoundation.org says “Early evidence tentatively suggests the connection may work in both directions: Alzheimer’s plaques disrupt sleep, and lack of sleep promotes Alzheimer’s plaques.”
6. Sleep Deprivation Makes You Less Attractive
With so many different reasons to make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye, do you really need more?
Well here’s a study titled Beauty sleep: An experimental study on the perceived health and attractiveness of sleep deprived individuals
The gist of it is this: 25 individuals are photographed in a controlled-setting (eg no changes in lighting photographic equipment, make-up etc), each on two separate occasions – after an eight-hour sleep, and after a sleep of just four hours.
The resulting photographs were then shown to 40 raters, whose task it was to rate, on a scale of 1 to 7, the 25 individuals on the basis of attractiveness, and also how much they would like to socialize with each of the participants.
The sleep-deprived were rated as less-attractive, and also were less popular for potential socializing.
Not surprising,really, that the sleep-deprived were seen as less popular. One thing we know about attractiveness is that we have a strong tendency to confer positive character traits to attractive people, and negative personality traits to less-attractive people. (Attractive people tend to be automatically considered more intelligent, more honest and more likable.)
7. Lack of Sleep Has Been Linked to Obesity
The reasons for this are complex – but according to the Harvard School of Public Health, there’s a growing body of evidence to link the two.
A study tracked 60,000 women for 16 years, and found that sleeping 5 or less hours a night lead to a 15% higher chance of obesity, compared to women who slept 7 hours a night.
It was also found that the chance of gaining 30 pounds over the course of the study increased by 30%.
Possible reasons for this are:
- Longer waking hours increase opportunities for snacking.
- Tiredness reduces energy and motivation for exercise, so any extra calories won’t get burned.
- Disruption of hormones that regulate appetite.
8. Reduced Libido
It’s not just that you are too tired for sex – it’s the effect that sleep deprivation can have on your hormones.
Lack of sleep has been linked to a drop in testosterone.
To many women with workaholic husbands, this won’t come as much surprise at all.
In normal circumstances, testosterone typically drops by 1 or 2% each year.
But men who have five or less hours sleep per night for just one week can expect to have testosterone levels of a man 15 years older!
It’s not just sex-drive that will suffer from these reduced levels of testosterone – sense of well-being and mood will be affected, along with reduction of muscle mass and bone density.
Low testosterone levels are also linked to the metabolism – and low testosterone has also been linked to an increase in the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Bringing me neatly to:
9. Increased Chance of Heart Disease, Strokes and Type 2 Diabetes
Long-term lack of sleep is quite conclusively linked with heart disease.
In 2011, the European Heart Journal (details here) reviewed 15 studies, with a total of nearly 1/2 million people studied, and found that short sleepers had a 48% higher chance of developing or dying from coronary heart disease, during a 7 to 25 year follow-up period.
This is accompanied by a 15% higher chance of developing or dying from a stroke.
(It should be mentioned that they also found that sleeping nine or more hours a night produced a similar chance of heart disease, along with an even higher chance of developing or dying from a stroke.)
Insulin resistance is induced after one single night of partial sleep deprivation according to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
In Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, another study suggests that something as simple as getting enough sleep could help counteract the current epidemics of diabetes and obesity.
“It definitely looks like a packaged deal,” said the study’s lead author, Josiane Broussard, PhD, a former graduate student at the University of Chicago who is now a post-doctoral research scientist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute in Los Angeles.
“Curtailed sleep produced marked changes in the secretion of growth hormone and levels of noradrenaline—which can increase circulating fatty acids,” Broussard said. “The result was a significant loss of the benefits of insulin. This crucial hormone was less able to do its job. Insulin action in these healthy young men resembled what we typically see in early stages of diabetes.” [More details here, at the newsroom for the University of Chicago Medicine]
10. A Higher Chance of Some Forms of Cancer
Lack of sleep is also linked to an increase in the chance of some types of cancer, notably breast cancer and cancer of the prostate.
This has been observed enough that for shift workers who are particularly prone to disrupted sleep patterns, regular health checks are highly recommended, and many countries have specific regulations to cover employers who require their staff to work anti-social hours.
One of the reasons cited for this increase of likelihood of developing cancer is due to a lower production of melatonin. A very detailed explanation of the relationship can be found here.
Hopefully, That Should Be Enough Reasons to Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Sleep…
It sometimes seems easier to find examples of individuals who wear their sleep deprivation as a “badge of honor“, a sign of their commitment to the job. But next time you feel tempted to join-in with this competitive sleeplessness, remember all of the side-effects you risk.
And bear in mind that high-performing individuals who value sleep do exist – Albert Einstein famously slept 10 hours per night – PLUS naps.
And Bill Clinton admitted that his mistakes during his presidency were largely made when he was tired.