LONDON: More than half of adults in the UK sleep for six hours or less each night, while just 17 per cent of adults enjoy the recommended eight hours, new research suggests. The poll of 2,000 people, by health insurer Aviva, found the average adult sleeps for just 6.4 hours each night. Against the NHS recommended eight hours of sleep, this could mean we’re losing a staggering 11 hours of sleep each week.
According to NHS, most of us need around eight hours of good quality sleep each night, although some need more and others less. What’s key is finding the amount the makes you feel on your A-game – then getting it.
Sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor, founder of The Sleep Works, tells HuffPost UK that short term impacts of sleep deprivation include fatigue, lack of focus and concentration, and short temper. “While the occasional bad night of sleep makes us feel tired and irritable, it will not affect us long term,” she adds.
However, it’s when we regularly miss sleep that the real issues surface. Long term impacts of regular sleep deprivation include sleepiness during the day which can cause accidents and injury, reduced memory function, reduced levels of alertness, and reduced skills in reasoning and problem solving, says Taylor.
“Lack of sleep can also cause increased risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure,” she adds.
Chris Miller, research lead for Big Health, which runs online therapy courses for issues including insomnia, explains that these negative health outcomes are caused by the body not having enough time to repair itself during the night.
“Sleep drives a whole lot of change in the body and the brain during the nighttime that helps replenish the body, trying to help with the wear and tear of day time functioning,” he tells HuffPost UK.
Both Taylor and Miller point out sleep deprivation, also referred to as sleep restriction, can have a negative impact on mental health, too, with multiple studies linking it to increased instances of depression.
Lack of sleep
Many effects of a lack of sleep, such as feeling grumpy and not working at your best, are well known. But did you know that sleep deprivation can also have profound consequences on your physical health?
One in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed. However, the cost of all those sleepless nights is more than just bad moods and a lack of focus.
Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy. It’s now clear that a solid night’s sleep is essential for a long and healthy life.
How much sleep needed?
Most of us need around 8 hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it. As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep. A variety of factors can cause poor sleep, including health conditions such as sleep apnoea. But in most cases, it’s due to bad sleeping habits.
Everyone’s experienced the fatigue, short temper and lack of focus that often follow a poor night’s sleep. An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health.
After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll start to feel down, and may fall asleep during the day. Your risk of injury and accidents at home, work and on the road also increases.
If it continues, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Here are 7 ways in which a good night’s sleep can boost your health:
Sleep boosts immunity
If you seem to catch every cold and flu that’s going around, your bedtime could be to blame. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you’re less able to fend off bugs.
Sleep can slim you
Sleeping less may mean you put on weight! Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 7 hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get 7 hours of slumber.
It’s believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone).
Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it’s not surprising that chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
When people with anxiety or depression were surveyed to calculate their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than 6 hours a night.
Sleep prevents diabetes
Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than 5 hours a night have an increased risk of developing diabetes.
It seems that missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose, which the body uses for energy.
Sleep increases sex drive
Men and women who don’t get enough quality sleep have lower libidos and less of an interest in sex, research suggests.
Men who suffer from sleep apnoea – a disorder in which breathing difficulties lead to interrupted sleep – also tend to have lower testosterone levels, which can lower libido.
Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.
Sleep increases fertility
Difficulty conceiving a baby has been claimed as one of the effects of sleep deprivation, in both men and women. Apparently, regular sleep disruptions can cause trouble conceiving by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones.
How to catch up on lost sleep
If you don’t get enough sleep, there’s only one way to compensate – getting more sleep. It won’t happen with a single early night. If you’ve had months of restricted sleep, you’ll have built up a significant sleep debt, so expect recovery to take several weeks.
Starting on a weekend, try to add on an extra hour or 2 of sleep a night. The way to do this is to go to bed when you’re tired, and allow your body to wake you in the morning (no alarm clocks allowed!).
Expect to sleep for upwards of 10 hours a night at first. After a while, the amount of time you sleep will gradually decrease to a normal level. Don’t rely on caffeine or energy drinks as a short-term pick-me-up. They may boost your energy and concentration temporarily, but can disrupt your sleep patterns even further in the long term.