Who needs a full 8 hours of sleep if 6 or 7 are good enough? Many people follow such reasoning and cut into their sleep – not a whole lot, just a few hours here and there. After all, there is so much stuff to do nowadays, it seems like a reasonable trade-off. But this thinking is flawed because depriving yourself of sleep doesn’t go unpunished. Read on to learn more about the repercussions of a sleep debt.
- After 19 hours without sleep, you’re as impaired as if you were drunk
Sounds crazy, right? Australian researchers conducted a study in which they compared the performance of legally drunk drivers to those who were sleep deprived. The legal limit Down Under is 0.05% of alcohol in your blood. The two groups performed a concentration test, and the effects were disturbing. After 19 hours awake, the sober participants performed no better than the legally drunk!
Think about it the next time you’re out late and decide to drive yourself home.
- Drowsy driving deadlier than DUI
Shocking as it is, sleepy drivers are more deadly on the roads than those under the influence of alcohol and drugs combined. As much as 10% of all the accidents in the US are caused by people who didn’t get enough shut-eye.
You may suspect that the drivers fall asleep behind the wheel. But the truth is much scarier – when sleep deprived, we often fall into a microsleep – the state in which your senses are temporarily shut down, eyes are closed, and you lose consciousness. Microsleep may last just a few seconds, but on the road, a few seconds is all it takes for a tragedy.
- Prolonged sleep deprivation is as harmful as an all-nighter
You may think that sleeping 6-7 hours instead of 8 won’t do you any harm. But you know what? After ten days of 7-hour sleep, your body will be as sleep deprived, as after pulling an all-nighter – states Matthew Walker, a professor at Berkeley University and author of the book “Why we sleep.” In every performance test, chronically sleep deprived people got as bad results as those that were up for 24 hours straight.
- Three days of recovery sleep are not enough
Let’s assume you sleep 7 hours a day, like in the example above. After ten days, your mind and body are craving sleep. But here comes the weekend, when you can sleep it off. You might think that two days of recovery sleep will do the trick, but you’d be wrong. Even after 3 days of proper sleep, your performance will still be impaired.
- You can gain weight
Ever wondered, why your new diet seems ineffective? Focus on your sleep instead. If you deprive yourself of sleep, you’ll simply eat more, for which you have leptin and ghrelin to blame. These two hormones are responsible for telling your body when to stop eating and when to eat more. Lack of sleep throws the levels of these hormones out of whack: less leptin is released, but the ghrelin secretion is up. Sleeping just a couple hours less than normal makes you feel the urge to eat more, while at the same time, you lose control over when to stop.
This study shows you’ll eat up to 300 extra calories each day you’re sleep deprived.
- Your memory will get worse
The information received by your brain during the day gets transported to its destination by night. It’s during sleep that the memory-related areas of our brain light up the most. The incoming data is stored in the hippocampus. When you go to sleep and get into the NREM stage, the memorizing process begins. Pieces of information are being transferred to the new, permanent place of stay: the neocortex. This process amplifies during the last two hours of light sleep. If you’re sleep deprived, you don’t give your brain enough time to get all the new memories in order. The hippocampus has limited space for new incoming data, so the day after you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll have trouble assimilating new pieces of information.
- Your creativity will drop
In NREM sleep, your memories get organized and ultimately saved for further use. But during REM sleep, they get connected to the already existing pieces of information. This flashing electric activity of the sleeping brain is used for far more than just dreaming. Thanks to REM, you get a creativity boost, since the brain connects new and existing data often in surprising ways.
- You’ll get short tempered
Even the stability of your emotions depends on a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep affects the amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for strong emotions. Poor sleep will even cause a 60% increase in amygdala’s activity, which in effect, will make you snap at people.
How do you know you’re getting the sleep you need?
To get any reliable diagnosis, it’s probably best to see a professional. However, you can use this rule of thumb to give you a read on your sleep situation. Honestly answer these questions:
- Do you need coffee to get you running before noon?
- If the alarm wouldn’t go off, would you sleep longer?
- After getting up early, would you be able to go back to sleep before noon?
Answering “yes” to any of these questions shows some sleep insufficiency. Answering “yes” to all of them means that maybe it’s time to seriously reassess your habits.