The more we learn about sleep the more we realise that it lies at the very heart of our physical and emotional wellbeing. That rather than being some period at night when we turn off it fulfils a vast number of different critical functions, from helping us store our memories through to helping to regulate our appetite. It comes as no surprise, now that we are beginning to understand what an essential role it plays, that sleep deprivation has a wide range of extremely worrying consequences.
Sleep. It is a fundamental part of our lives, the average person will spend around a third of their life asleep. In the past it was seen as simply a means of re-energising but in the past few decades a far more nuanced understanding of this phenomenon has emerged, one that shows that sleep plays a far more foundational role in our physical and mental well being. We now know that sleep is critical to a wide range of physiological functions and that sleep deprivation can have a huge and concerning array of consequences. So what are some of these consequences. What happens to us when we are sleep deprived?
A lack of sleep will often result in mood changes as well as difficulties with thinking and behaviour. It can not only make someone very cranky and irritable, but in the longer run can either create or exacerbate anxiety and depression. A number of studies have found that sleep deprivation can undermine judgment, critical thinking, relationships, problem solving, planning, and organization.
Studies have also found that sleep deprivation has a profound effect on memory and cognitive performance. Our memory can become compromised by sleep deprivation. Both our immediate recall and short-term memory both become impaired and people will suffer symptoms including decreased attentiveness, inability to remember tasks and information and an inability to process the day’s memories. The majority of memory processing and consolidation happens at certain periods while we sleep and if people are not sleeping properly and are missing out on these vital stages of sleep then their memory will suffer.
People’s attention, concentration, and vigilance will become impaired due to lack of sleep. Shockingly they have found that people who sleep for less than 7 hours per night have reaction times that are similar to those who are completely sleep deprived for one or even two nights which can, obviously, lead to them making errors, creating accidents, and impairing their work performance. Even worse, many people who are sleep deprived will not even recognise these problems.
People will notice physical issues as well. People who are not sleeping enough will be more likely to suffer from fatigue, malaise, aches, pains, stomach upset, as well as diarrhoea. Studies also connect lack of sleep or poor quality sleep with a poor conception of personal health and more frequent health complaints. Sleep also helps regulate the hormones involved with our appetite so people who are not sleeping as well will have an increased appetite and will crave fattier foods.
Sleep well for a better life.
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