When did cutting sleep become a thing?
How you feel awake depends in part on what happens while you are sleeping. Sleep supports a wide range of activities inside your body, from healthy brain functions to maintaining physical health. In children, sleep supports their growth and development.
However, somewhere along the way, having less sleep is associated with a productive lifestyle. We are in a time where work comes with longer hours and more shift-work. Millions of people are jeopardizing their health, the quality of their lives, and cutting their lifespan shorter with increasing stress and sleep deprivation.
Since sleep supports so many vital functions of your health, sleep deficiency can make you prone to more health-related risks. Lack of sleep is linked to chronic health problems such as cardiovascular diseases (heart and blood vessels), diabetes, sleep apnea, depression and decreased immune function. It also affects how well you think, work, learn, mood, and getting along with others.
To drive the point home, we are going to dive deeper on why you should get more sleep and better sleep. Here are five scientifically-backed reasons on prioritizing more quality snooze time.
Table of Contents
1. Sleep to Protect Your Health
Although scientists still aren’t sure to what extent the role of sleep is, there is countless research done to find the connections between your physical health and lack of quality sleep. One of the major health concerns relates to the heart.
A clinical paper published in 2011 reviewed multiple studies that date as far back as 1966. The paper found that people sleeping 5 hours or less each night were in a much higher risk group for cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) morbidity and mortality. Morbidity is having or developing a disease. Mortality is death.
In another study following 3,000 adults over an 8-year period, they found that those with severe sleep apnea were 58% likely develop congestive heart failure compared to those without sleep apnea.
The same study also found that people sleeping less than 6 hours each night were about twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack compared to those who slept 6 to 8 hours each night.
Sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder where the breathing is interrupted and there are pauses in breathing or breathing becomes shallow. The lack of oxygen puts a strain on the heart to pump more oxygen throughout your body. This makes the heart weaker and more prone to congestive heart failure.
Type 2 diabetes is another alarming chronic health condition that is linked to sleep deprivation. According to the International Diabetes Federation, there is an estimate of 382 million diabetic patients worldwide, with the expectation to nearly double by 2035.
One study published in 2015 conducted a meta-analysis of over ten articles with 11 reports for a total of 482,502 participants where 18,443 were diabetic, with follow-up periods in the reports range from 2.5 to 16 years.
The study found that those sleeping between 7 to 8 hours each night had the lowest risk of type 2 diabetes. It also found that those with less (or more) sleep per hour were at increasing levels of risk for developing type 2 diabetes. This means the shorter or longer sleep duration you have each night, the more at risk you are for developing type 2 diabetes.
So what does this mean to me?
Low levels of sleep put your heart at risk. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that develops from disruptive sleep, sedentary lifestyle, and obesity. Diabetes is another rampant disease that comes from the lack of sleep, which most of us often know someone living with it.
Taking care of your heart is step one. Getting checked for sleep apnea, for diabetes (prediabetic), and getting the right amount sleep every night should lower your risk factors. But not too much sleep!
2. Sleep to Help You Look Your Best
How much do you spend on beauty products? How do you feel when you are sleep deprived? How do others perceive you when you lack in sleep?
English fashion model, racing car driver, and television personality, Jodie Kidd decided to find out how much of an impact sleep deprivation has on her facial appearance.
In a 2015 study, Jodie among 29 other female volunteers was photographed had their skin tested and answered a survey of questions relating to self-esteem and well-being. After five nights of 6-hour sleep sessions, they went through the same skin test and survey questions.
Here are the results comparison for the participants:
- Fine lines and wrinkles increased in number by a significant 45%
- Spot visibility increased by 13% in number and by a significant 7%
- The number of porphyrins on the skin increased over the five days on average by 16% and in intensity by 7%
- Red areas on the skin increased by 8% and they became 5% more visible
- Brown spots increased by 11% in number and 4% in intensity
In another study of the appearance, ten participants had their photos taken in two instances: once after eight hours of normal sleep, then once more after 31 hours of staying away. 40 participants rated 20 facial pictures of the ten individuals.
Guess what? They were perceived to look sadder. Sleep deprivation is associated with a lot of facial cues: paler skin, hanging eyelids, redder and more swollen eyes, with darker circles under the eyes, more wrinkles and fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth.
So what does this mean to me?
The face provides a lot of information which people use to base their interactions with each other. They often affect judgments of different qualities in people such as trustworthiness, aggressiveness, and competence.
As much as we want beauty accessories to cover up the face we have when we lack sleep will take a lot of effort. The best way for developing clearer skin, eyes that give attention to people we speak with, and a smile that won’t droop is to give yourself the adequate, quality sleep you deserve every night.
Fatigue also affects how you behave around other people. Although not covered, slouching from exhaustion, walking sloppy, and other body languages we give off when we haven’t slept well and enough also forms an impression on those we socialize with on a daily basis.
If you want to look your best, get a good night’s rest!
3. Sleep to Be Happier and Less Stressed
Would you believe that your happiness is linked to how much and well you sleep? Mood and level of stress are linked to the amount of quality sleep you have each night.
However, the lack of sleep makes you more forgetful, gives you trouble with concentration, and can affect your self-esteem and self-doubt. That is why it’s so important to manage your stress and prioritize your sleep. One important area of focus is work.
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, sleep and mood are closely connected. When you sleep poorly or not enough, you can become irritated and stressed.
Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, Medical Director of Sleep Health Centers and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, points out that people who have problems with sleep are at an increased risk for developing emotional disorders, depression, and anxiety.
“Not only does sleep affect mood, but mood and mental states can also affect sleep. Anxiety increases agitation and arousal, which make it hard to sleep. Stress also affects sleep by making the body aroused, awake, and alert. People who are under constant stress or who have abnormally exaggerated responses to stress tend to have sleep problems.”
In another study published in 2002, 5,720 healthy employed men and women were examined for the quality and amount of sleep, work and work-related social relations, and lifestyle.
What the study found was a correlation between sleep disturbance and high work demands. The more stress and demand from your work, the more likely your sleep patterns to be disrupted.
The inability to stop worrying during free time may also be an important link between your stress levels and quality of sleep.
So what does this mean to me?
The studies point out that when there is a high level of social support, an active lifestyle and lower work demands, the risk of disturbed sleep, impaired awakenings, and feelings of not being well rested after sleep is reduced.
Knowing when to leave your work at the workplace is an important distinction to make for a more balanced lifestyle. Give your brain and emotions a well-deserved downtime each evening and night so you can get back on your feet with maximum effort for the next day.
4. Sleep to Build a Better Brain
Having good nights of sleep help better manage, use, and improve many different functions your brain uses. The way you learn, make decisions, solve problems, cope with change, and control your emotions and behavior are all activities related to your brain that rely on having proper, adequate sleep each night.
If you are having problems concentrating, solving problems, memory or mood – the lack of sleep may attribute to the decline in your cognitive functions. (Even more so if you are a student!)
Being able to remember and recall information is one of many important aspects of daily activities. One study published in 2013 showed how much of a role sleep plays in memory consolidation.
Different stages of your sleep are important for different types of memory. The study found that sleep deprivation affects the consolidation of 4 types of memory examined in this study: episodic, semantic, procedural, and conditioning. (Evidence available is limited for semantic memory. The study was not able to draw firm conclusions for this type of memory.)
Episodic memory deals with events and experiences.
Semantic memory is facts and concepts.
Procedural memory is for motor skills and task-related.
Conditioning memory is learned responses.
Memory is, of course, very important for learning. In a study published in 2013, the researchers combed through multiple studies dating as far back as 1924. They found that sleep facilitates long-term memory formation.
Their conclusion? Sleep deprivation constrained within 6 hours following learning disrupts your brain’s ability to consolidate the information you just learned.
Another (mega) study recently published in 2017 involved 30,000 participants over an 18 month period. The data available gave way for analysis of over 3 million nights and 75 million interaction tasks!
What did the study focus on? The subjects’ keystroke speed and click interactions on search engines.
Their findings? One insufficient night of sleep showed 1.2% slower performance and two insufficient nights of sleep showed 4.8% slower performance.
The study also took into account any real-world behavioral compensation, like increasing caffeine intake to help improve performance after sleep loss. This means despite caffeine intake, subjects were still that much slower in their keystrokes and clicks.
So what does this mean to me?
Get some sleep! After every study session, take a nap and sleep well during the night to give your brain some time to wrap up, package, and save all the hard work you have done during the day.
If you work in front of a computer, optimal performance means getting sufficient sleep every night. Start prioritizing your sleep!
5. Sleep to Lose a Few Pounds
Do you snack on junk food frequently? Do you find yourself eating an extra late night meal? You may want to hold that bite for one moment to read this next section.
The effects of sleep deprivation on weight gains lie in the hormonal increase that influences your food choices. Sleep loss causes you to crave for high-carb, high-sugar, palatable food.
The study found that sleep restriction leads to hormonal alterations that made its subjects favor an increase in caloric intake (eating more) and decrease energy expenditure (less exertion). These two actions ultimately lead to weight gain.
Aside from shorter sleep duration, evidence also suggests that sleep disturbance (affecting the quality of sleep), such as obstructive sleep apnea and generally poor quality of sleep, may also increase obesity risk.
According to Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience:
“What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified.”
Participants in the studies reported:
- More hunger and appetite,
- Inability to control eating tasty snacks, and
- Excessive food intake
In the brain scans of the sleep deprived participants, the scans revealed impaired activity in the decision making part of the brain as well as an increase in deeper brain areas that respond to rewards. This imbalance means there is less think and more acting on primal instincts. When the participants eat tasty food, the reward center of the brain fires off and makes the person prone to eating more.
Try going to sleep earlier than usual. If you find yourself eating at night, it might be a good idea to sleep an hour or two before the time you normally go grab a late night snack.
Don’t forget about giving yourself a sufficient amount of habitual sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene and evening routine will also make falling asleep much easier and consistent.
Our Final Thoughts
We might not know where the idea behind less sleep is better. However, thanks to science, we do know that sleep is linked to your physical health, appearance, happiness, brain performance, and weight gains.
Lack of sleep is linked to many problems to your body and brain:
- Chronic health problems such as stroke, heart problems, and heart attacks.
- Affects facial skin, eyes and mouth and how others may perceive and behave around you
- How well you control your emotions and behavior, and respond to stress
- How well your brain performs, remember things, make decisions, and solve problems
- Makes you more hungry and prone to eating more food, especially choosing to eat the less healthy choices
However, giving yourself sufficient, quality sleep and practicing proper sleep hygiene provide a lot of benefits:
- Better immunity against getting sick or developing illnesses
- Better cognitive and physical performance, for improved thinking, working, learning, mood, and getting along with others
- Better metabolic functions and facial appearance
- As well as better memory, decision making capability, and problem-solving
- Don’t forget about better weight control and loss
Lack of sleep affects millions of people around the world. We hope in this guide, you are convinced to prioritize your sleep highly. There is no need to put yourself at a health risk, and you can get all the benefits of sleep if you choose right.