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Sleep: Vital for Good Physical and Mental Health

Sleep: Vital for Good Physical and Mental Health


Good mental health is something we would all like to have all the time.  However, we know that losing sleep can make us struggle to concentrate and keep smiling, but research is increasingly proving that a lack of good quality sleep can seriously affect both physical and mental health . More than 20 large-scale studies have proved that the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.

How sleep deprivation affects physical health

Weight gain and obesity

Reduced levels of leptin (the hunger-inhibiting ‘you’re full’ hormone) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone) are c Sleep deprivation. It’s a vicious circle, as you’re more prone to sleep problems if you’re overweight.

Increased diabetes risk

Sleeping 5 hours a night or less increases the risk of diabetes, particularly those lacking deep or ‘slow-wave’ sleep. Their body processes glucose differently, reacting incorrectly to insulin. Tiredness also causes you to secrete more stress hormones (e.g. cortisol), making it harder for insulin to function correctly and leaving excess glucose in your bloodstream.

Increased cancer risk

Professor Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, says that after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep, your natural cancer-attacking cells drop by 70%. US researchers have discovered that night workers produce 80% less of a by-product of DNA tissue repair, indicating their bodies aren’t carrying out their natural overnight cell restoration.

Increased Alzheimer’s risk

During deep sleep, amyloid deposits (a cell-killing toxin that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers) are ‘cleaned’ away. Without sufficient sleep, these plaques build up, especially in deep-sleep-generating regions – meaning you sleep even less. It’s a vicious circle.

Increased risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke

Persistent sleep deprivation causes increased heart rate, blood pressure and inflammation, which can all put extra strain on your heart. Over-45s sleeping less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

Weakened immunity

Sleep deprivation damages production and distribution of immune factors.

Reduced fertility and libido

Research has revealed that insufficient sleep can cause lower libido in men and women, and reduce the secretion of reproductive hormones.

How sleep deprivation affects mental health

Increased risk of depression, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations and psychotic episodes

It is a well-established link between poor mental health and poor sleep. Daniel Freeman, co-author of major research on the subject, found that insomnia doubles your chances of developing depression, while treating insomnia reduces it. His study also showed that when people sleep better, they’re far less likely to suffer from anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations or psychotic episodes.

Reduced memory, concentration and reaction times

The odd late night isn’t a problem, but after persistently poor sleep, your reaction times, concentration and decision-making decline significantly. This can affect not only your health and safety, but that of others you work with, care for – or drive past.

Sleep deficiency harms your driving ability as much as, or more than, being drunk.  With only 4 hours’ sleep, there’s 11.5 times the chance of being involved in a crash. Driver fatigue is responsible for over 100,000 car accidents and 1,500 deaths each year.

A Change of Attitude

Professor Walker says, “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation”.   He believes we have “stigmatised sleep with the label of laziness” because we want to seem busy; a lack of sleep is “a badge of honour.” That’s an attitude we need to change if we are to remain in good mental health.




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