You unknowingly sigh when you read the following lines in a morning publication or on your mobile news feed:
Respect your body’s need for sleep. A full night of sleep is critical for your long life.
You know your body’s demand for a night of sleep is non-negotiable for your health. You know that for a fact. But you can’t abide by that on this day.
Today, you must run through 18 hours to push across a mountain of work. There is no way you can turn off any of it.
So you overwork through another of your frantic days in a half-eyed haze. It is the haze of sleep deprivation, carried over from many yesterdays you lost count of.
Every morning you tell yourself you’ll sleep early today. Every night you fail that promise.
Sleep remains a mystery. Despite all the sum of scientific progress, we still do not know for sure why we sleep; we only have unproven theories. But we do know most of the reasons for sleeplessness.
Why Don’t You Sleep Well Enough At Night?
We don’t get enough sleep because we have access to artificial light when the sun goes down. We prioritize work over our sleep during the late hours. We also spend an inordinate amount of time amusing ourselves on our mobile devices and laptops, instead of sleeping. The blue light emitted by digital devices is a big contributor to delaying sleepiness, making us postpone going to bed early and getting adequate sleep.
Loss of sleep is a common issue in our modern society. It affects most people, at least at some point in their lives. Even though you know how important it is for your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, it is too challenging to get enough sleep on most days.
Even when you have half a dozen apps on your phone to help you get to sleep, you have no time to fire up any of them. By the time you hit the bed, you are hardly awake to see you are diving headfirst into a burnout.
Every night you have difficulty controlling your bedtime. And every morning, as you wake up tired and achy, you promise yourself you will go to sleep early tonight.
After a strict resolution, when you can finally retire to bed early, you keep tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. You lay down wide awake and wonder:
Can I ever sleep better and wake up like a new person raring to go?
You remember someone told you that Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, was the twin brother of Thanatos, their god of death. Perhaps half-knowingly, you’re trying to go out in peaceful sleep.
You’re not alone. Scarcity of sleep is the curse of half the world’s population.
The surprising part is almost all of us know how much sleep we need. Ask anyone, and they will tell you it’s eight hours. So says science, too. But we don’t you sleep enough.
While sleep makes us feel better, energetic, alert, and happier, sleep loss can unleash terrible effects on the body, mood, and behavior. Even when we know the harms of sleep loss, as a society, we have somehow come to glorify our hours without a doze and our victories over our sleep.
What Is Insomnia Or Sleeplessness?
Insomnia is a type of sleep disorder characterized by persistent difficulty in falling and staying asleep. It is caused frequently by stress from work, relationships, or personal crises. Symptoms may include anxiety, vision difficulties, appearing older than one’s actual age, distracted focus and attention, and not feeling well-rested.
Insomnia is the commonest reason you have trouble remaining asleep at night. But how much less sleep does it need to fall into the category of sleep deprivation? Sleep deprivation is generally defined as less than 6 hours of sleep each day, according to most studies.
The following are some causes of sleepiness or insomnia:
- Shift work
- Work demands
- Home life demands
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS)
Researchers at the Great British Sleep Survey found that 63.1 percent of people are unhappy with the amount of sleep they get. Only 8 percent said they always wake up feeling refreshed.
The above survey also found sleep-deprived people are seven times more likely to feel helpless in any challenging situation.Sleep experts often link long periods of sleep deficit to psychiatric illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Click To Tweet
What Are The Effects of Sleeping Less?
Persistent sleep loss increases the likelihood of getting depressed, angry, anxious, stressed, irritable, heart disease, obesity, chronic fatigue, low immunity, diabetes, and brain strokes.
Going without sleep for long kills animals in lab conditions, scientists have found. Rats kept continuously awake for two weeks, fall dead.
The 3 most common harmful after-effects of just one night without full sleep are:
- Bad mood
- Lack of attention
Within the first 24 hours of sleep deprivation, your blood pressure starts to rise. Soon, the body temperature drops and your immune system weakens.
Poor sleep can worsen your judgments, reaction times, the ability to make fast decisions, situational awareness, and the capacity to learn and retain information, barely within hours.
Then, you begin to hear voices and see ghosts. The onset of hallucinations is one of the more typical symptoms of the sleep-deprived brain. Based on the duration of sleep deprivation, roughly 80% of the general population will inevitably experience hallucinations. The vast majority of these are visual hallucinations.
A German study showed, when nurses on the night shift were given a visual perception test (called the Binocular Depth Inversion Illusion Test or “BDII”) after the first, third, and seventh shifts, they repeatedly failed it. They were hallucinating objects.
Prolonged lack of sleep is associated with increased risks of brain stroke and diseases of metabolism such as diabetes.
Loss of sleep can affect genes too. Research from the University of Surrey found sleep loss causes changes in the expression of more than 700 of our genes.
And after just one week of sleeping less, genes that control inflammation in the body increase their activity.
Long sleep deprivation can start your brain cell death.
Scientists warn that when you don’t get enough sleep, over time your brain stops working properly. The most dangerous effect of sleep loss is that it can lead to the shrinking of your brain.
Brain studies show that after a night of fewer than 6 hours of sleep, the emotional center of our brain – the amygdala – becomes hyperactive. While the higher cortical centers of our brain, that do executive thinking, become less active.
So, sleep loss can make you think less, and react more.
During sleep, our brains and nervous systems are actually in intense activity, not resting. Of the many good things that sleep does for brain health, one is the cleansing out of toxic deposits.
In 2015, scientists discovered for the first time that our brains have a drainage system, the glymphatic system. It cleans out the toxic amyloid-beta (Aβ) proteins that build up in our brains during the day.
These same proteins are the main reason behind Alzheimer’s, a disease that strips away all our memories. Scientists have seen large deposits of these Aβ proteins in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Now the greater discovery was that while we sleep, the glymphatic system works 60 percent more actively to pump out these toxins. So, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re probably pushing yourself towards Alzheimer’s.
Data shows sleepy drivers cause around 1.2 million car crashes annually in the US alone.
Sleep deprivation compels one to go into ‘microsleeps’ while doing other things. Microsleeps are often the worst offenders behind fatal road accidents.
Too little sleep in humans and animals, when persistent, creates serious health effects like high blood pressure and heart disease. Sleep deficit also damages the circulation, digestion, metabolism, and immune system.
There are at least 75 recognized sleep disorders. Of all these, sleep deprivation is what we can control the most on our own.
Sleep researchers have examined what happens when animals are not allowed to sleep. They indicate what harm we humans do to ourselves when we ignore sleep.
Can You Get Fat From Not Sleeping Well?
Yes. Sleep loss can make one fat. When a person sleeps less, their gut lining produces more ghrelin – the hunger hormone, which makes them eat more and store more fat.
- food intake
- fat deposition
- growth hormone release
- Insulin secretion
- Sympathetic nerve activity
- Heat production and energy expenditure
As a result, this hunger hormone, along with other factors such as reduced leptin and energy levels, makes you end up eating more, especially the ‘comfort foods.’
The Mayo Clinic found people who get 4 or fewer hours of sleep each night are 73% more likely to get overweight. And a 2015 Berkeley study showed that for every hour of sleep a person loses, they gain 2.1 points on their body mass index (BMI).
Sleep and stress work in an inverse relationship: the less your sleep, the more acute your stress; and the more the stress, the less you manage to sleep.
A study from the University of California found the final stage of your sleep cycle, REM sleep, during which you dream, helps you process emotional stress.
When you sleep less, this stress processing takes a beating. As an extra, lack of sleep causes the release of higher volumes of cortisol – your stress hormone.
What Are The 4 Stages of Sleep Cycle?
Sleep isn’t an inactive stage. With the invention of the machine to record the electric activity of the brain — electroencephalogram or EEG — in 1929, scientists were able to find out the dynamic state of sleep.
Throughout the night, we go through cycles of sleep, each cycle lasting about 90 to 120 minutes. One whole cycle of sleep has 4 stages.
The first 3 stages fall under the category of Non-Rapid Eye Movement (Non-REM or NREM) sleep, while and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) consists of the 4th stage.
- Stage 1 (Non-REM): The twilight phase of sleep, when you’re entering sleep and floating in and out of wakefulness. During this, a phenomenon called hypnic myoclonus occurs when some of your muscles jerk. From this stage of drowsiness, which lasts 1 to 7 minutes, you slip into stage 2.
- Stage 2 (Non-REM): About half of your whole sleep is this – the stage of light sleep. In this, your eyelids stop fluttering, your brain and heart slow down, and the core body temperature falls. This stage lasts from 10 to 25 minutes.
- Stage 3 (Non-REM): This is the deep sleep stage. Also called “slow-wave” or “delta” sleep. The brain in this stops responding to outside stimuli, and it is quite difficult to awaken you from this stage of sleep. During slow wave sleep, there are no muscle or eye movements, and your body temperature and blood pressure drops even further. This stage generally lasts 20 to 40 minutes.
- Stage 4 or REM Sleep: This is the stage when your eyes move rapidly. It seems as if you are trying to follow things even with closed eyes. This stage, often called “active sleep,” on EEG shows an alpha rhythm with low-amplitude (small), high-frequency (fast) waves.
Sleep experts think these rapid eye movements are because of your dreams. When people are woken up from REM sleep, they say they recall watching some vivid dreams.
Many experts think dreams help you confront the emotional dramas in your life, and reach solutions.
One study found people who had more REM sleep had less fear-related brain activity when given mild electric shocks the next day. Another study found naps that included REM sleep helped people recognize happy expressions better.
However, even when your REM phase is an active stage in which your eyes move, and your blood pressure and temperature rise, your limb muscles stay paralyzed so that you can’t act out your dreams.
The REM or dream stage of sleep lasts 10 to 20 minutes.
At the end of the REM stage, you wake up for a brief period and start another sleep cycle again.
What To Do If You Go To Bed But Can’t Sleep?
Millions of people who struggle with insomnia find themselves tossing and turning when they want to fall asleep. If you’re an insomniac, you can fall asleep in a matter of minutes using the right strategy.
Relaxation is one of the key secrets to falling asleep easily. Here are some effective tips:
- Don’t go to bed unless you feel sleepy. Lying down to sleep when your mind is abuzz with excitement will invite insomnia.
- If it is your sleep time but you are brimming with energy and alertness, go through a relaxation routine: Take a warm bath. Change into your sleepwear. Play a piece of soothing music. Do some gentle stretching. Take a few deep breaths. Set the room temperature to a cooler point ( 60–67°F or 15–19°C). Make the room dark and put out all light sources. Push away your thoughts and worries for the next day. Meditate to relax your mind.
- If you are in bed but do not fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed. Do a quiet activity without much light exposure, like sitting up focusing your eyes on a distant object in the room. Make sure you do not switch on a blue screen or get on electronics.
- 4-7-8 Breathing technique. Dr. Andrew Weil, who proposed it, claims the 4-7-8 can help people fall asleep faster. It consists of breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. It is then repeated 3-4 times. There is a paucity of clinical evidence to back up these claims concerning 4-7-8 breathing. Support comes mainly from anecdotal reports from satisfied practitioners, who say it reduces anxiety.
- Insomnia: Relaxation techniques and sleeping habits. InformedHealth.org. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279320/
- Relaxation Techniques for Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/relaxation-techniques-what-you-need-to-know
Perhaps the biggest enemies of sleep are our worries and anxieties.
Most of us have experienced the feeling that our heads begin to hum with anxieties just as we lay down to sleep. A daily practice of “worry journaling” can help you with this. Set aside 20 to 30 minutes to write about your concerns, ideally at least 2 hours before bedtime.
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Read, listen, and download the 6 Genuine Sleep Hacks (From Science).
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
• Our story: Happiness Project
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