When was the last time you woke up feeling refreshed, energetic, and clear in your head? Do you have to wake up to an alarm, feel groggy, and have to keep hitting the snooze alarm? Do you always need caffeine just to give you a boost? Or perhaps you wake up too early, wired and tired, anticipating your day, and irritable? There are serious side effects of sleep deprivation extending far beyond the above symptoms.
I used to wear a badge of honour when I thought I could get away with five to six hours of sleep. I showed great pride in being “productive” and a “go getter”. “I don’t have time for sleep. I have too much to do”, “I’m good on five hours of sleep” were common phrases I used in my twenties and thirties.
It was only when I started to learn about the importance of getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night and experiencing it when I realized how wrong I was. When I get seven to eight hours of sleep my whole inner and outer world changes. My energy levels are better, I am focussed and clear in the head, my ability to handle stress is better, my communication with people is better, and I am more positive. Also, when I do get seven to eight hours of sleep I’m way more productive in a shorter period of time. I was lying to myself and others when I said I was good on five hours of sleep.
I’m not alone in this “too busy for sleep” attitude. One-third to two-thirds of adults in developed nations don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night during the week. (1, 2, 2a, 3, 3a) You may not be surprised by this fact, but you may be surprised by the consequences.
One-third to two-thirds of adults in developed nations don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night during the week.
Getting less than six or seven hours of sleep a night:
- weakens you immune system making you prone to get sick more often, slowing down your ability to heal, and doubling your risk of cancer (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 3)
- leads to anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, and other mood disorders (9, 3)
- causes problems with brain cognition, memory, judgement, decision making, and general mental performance (9, 3)
- decreases your ability to handle stress (9, 3)
- is highly associated with addictions and risk taking (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
- causes blood sugar problems (20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 3)
- increases the chance of your arteries becoming blocked and brittle leading to heart disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure (25, 26, 27, 3)
- leads to a disruption in hormone signals that will make you eat more and gain weight (28, 29, 30, 31, 32)
- disrupts your healthy gut microbiome leading to gut problems and nutritional deficiencies (33, 34)
- makes you less productive at work and at home (35, 9)
- decreases sports performance and increases the chance of injuries (36, 37, 38, 39)
- increases your chance of getting migraines, low back pain, and chronic pain (40, 41, 42, 43)
- increase your chances of getting in a car accident (44, 45)
Getting less than six or seven hours of sleep a night ultimately leads to a lower quality of life and shorter lifespan.
If you still think you are one of the few that can get away with less than seven hours of sleep a night think again. Science shows that after sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. (46) Humans need seven to nine hours of sleep each night for their brain to work properly and maintain cognitive performance. (47) There is a small portion of the population (less than 1%) that has a certain gene which allows them to survive on five hours of sleep each night.
As sleep scientist and expert Dr. Walker states in his book, Why We Sleep, impaired performance because of sleep deprivation “is the equivalent of someone at a bar who has had far too many drinks picking up his car keys and confidently telling you I’m fine to drive home.” When we are sleep deprived we lose objectivity in how impaired our performance really is.
In future articles, I will dive deeper into the effects of sleep deprivation related to brain function, fatigue, gut problems, and pain syndromes.