“Lack of sleep damages every aspect of your life!”
Starting off with a bang, right?
Most people turn off pretty quickly at the mention of sleep. A non-sexy issue that many folks let fall by the wayside, sleep is second only to “meditation” on the list of who-cares-I’m-doing-fine health topics.
So why the hyperbole?
Well...that’s just it: it’s NOT hyperbole. Sleep deprivation sucks.
The above is a quote from Dr. Kirk Parsley, a medical doctor, sleep researcher, and former Navy SEAL. A world-renowned expert on sleep, he’s not alone on his views about how impactful sleep is..
[And as a side note, here’s the sentence that immediately precedes the above quote: “I’m not prone to hyperbole; so when you read the next sentence, please know that I mean exactly what it says.”]
Yes, I Mean You...
I’ve always found it funny how we, as humans, can take a fundamental idea and apply it to some contexts of life and not others. For instance, it’s easy for us to acknowledge the major biological impact hormones have during both puberty and menopause, but the subject is rarely broached at other points in our lives.
Likewise, we tend to relegate the negative effects of sleep deprivation to children under the age of about 10 or so. If a child is being fussy or grumpy, it’s easy to say “she’s just tired” or “he needs a nap.”
But what about the rest of your time here on Earth? Don’t YOU need adequate sleep, too?
This is, unfortunately, where it all tends to break down. When you spend all—or at least most—of your life getting the same 4-5 hours of sleep every night and still functioning on some level, it’s difficult to admit that lack of sleep is an issue.
But it is.
They say that the first step to recovery is admitting that there’s a problem. But I’m going to do you one better: I don’t want you to admit that you have a problem. All I want you to do is pretend.
What if you weren’t getting adequate sleep every night? What if there was a way you could feel even better than you already do? What if you could improve your relationships, your productivity, and your overall health?
What if getting more sleep was beneficial?
Ok, now that you’re all primed (remember, you don’t have a problem - you’re just pretending!), let’s look at some of the effects that sleep deficiency can have…
#1 | Increased Risk of Alzheimer's Disease
Though there's still some controversy and plenty of mystery surrounding the origin and development of Alzheimer's Disease, it appears that experts agree that it is characterized by the buildup of certain types of plaques in the brain (plaques made of Amyloid-β proteins).
Part of the object of sleep is to flush these (and other) neurotoxins from the brain.
If sleep flushes these toxins from the brain, lack of sleep helps them accumulate, and they can start accruing as early as 20 years before the onset of dementia, it seems a logical step that prioritizing sleep now can have a profound impact later.
#2 | Increased Risk of Obesity
Lack of sleep is a major risk factor for obesity. For one thing, it can cause disruptions with your normal hormonal rhythms. When those hormones involved with hunger (leptin and ghrelin, if you’re curious) are affected, it’s easy to end up eating more than you would normally. In other words, your satiety signals are thrown off.
Not only this, but lack of sleep also promotes insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to anything from diabetes to an increased waistline, to a whole host of chronic metabolic diseases.
And yes, that means even one night.
#3 | Increased Risk of Cancer
Sleep deprivation can increase your risk of developing cancer. Perhaps more to the point, lack of sleep can increase your risk of not fighting off cancer.
Cancer basically works like this: we all build and carry around damaged cells that need to be destroyed. If, for some reason, these cells are not destroyed, they can continue to grow and divide uncontrollably. The result: cancer.
[Is that a complete and scientifically robust explanation? Not in the slightest. But it serves to illustrate my point, methinks.]
Lack of sleep impedes this process of cellular cleanup and makes elimination of these cells less effective. In fact, the impact is so great that the CDC has categorized shift work (famous for its circadian disruption) as a probable carcinogen.
#4 | Impaired Recovery
I kept that heading general because I meant it in a very general way. If you’re recovering from something—be it injury, surgery, an illness, or even just a workout—chances are most of that recovery happens while you sleep.
Sleep is when the body does its repairs. As mentioned above, it flushes neurotoxins from the brain (and replenishes neurotransmitters). It repairs muscle cells, both heart and skeletal. It commences cellular cleanup. Heck, even your hair and nails do the majority of their growing during sleep!
Cut back on your sleep, and recovery will suffer.
#5 | Difficulty Functioning
Another generic turn of phrase, but, again, for good reason: while lack of sleep affects your cognitive abilities, your cognitive abilities affect your physical abilities.
Ergo, lack of sleep affects your ability to “function.” Both physically and mentally/intellectually.
It’s easy to understand how lack of sleep can impact your brain, but it can be more difficult to apply this same thought to your physical self. Remember, muscles don’t move on their own. They move when they are given a signal to by the brain.
But it’s not a simple on/off switch: the process involves complicated neuropathways that tell which muscles to fire, in what order, and to what extent. So when the brain isn’t working optimally, the messages it sends won’t, either.
...I think you get the point: lack of sleep results in much larger, much more detrimental effects than simply feeling "a little groggy."
And even if sleep-deprived becomes your new normal and you don't notice the difference in energy, all that stuff listed above? Still happening.
Because like I said: sleep deprivation sucks.
Sorry 'bout it.
Here is a challenge for you. Nay, a dare! I know you function perfectly well on the amount of sleep you currently get. You’re a rockstar. But we’re playing pretend, remember?
My challenge is this: take the next few weeks and try to increase the amount of quality sleep you get, and report back to me the results.
For tips and tricks on HOW to get more (and better) sleep, stay tuned next week!