Missed Your 8 Hours Again? These Terrifying Effects Of Poor Sleep Will Make Sure You’re Tucked Up Tight

You’re feeling sleepy, very sleepy... Ease up, we’ve no intention of putting you into a trance to make you think you’re Steve Guttenberg in Police Academy every time a bell rings (for now). We’re simply hazarding a guess of your current mental state. After all, it would seem we’re all knackered: a study of 13 major countries last year found that the UK was the most collectively drained of all, with 37% of Brits claiming they didn’t get enough shuteye. Wherever you hail from, the damage caused by lack of sleep is equally scary.

‘Sleep’s more important than diet, exercise and even food,’ says Dr Neil Stanley of The Sleep Consultancy – we quizzed him to find out just what carnage insomnia can wreak on the body.

Sleepless Nights Can Stop You Getting That Promotion

‘The part of the brain that is very sensitive to lack of sleep is the frontal lobe,’ reveals Stanley. ‘It’s the area that looks after problem solving and future related abstract goals – it’s the bit that makes us human, as opposed to the reptilian part of the brain with the fight or flight response. It does all the things that make us clever, giving us our sense of humour, which is why sleepy people are more miserable and their interpersonal relationships suffer. Sleepy people have more conflict with their colleagues, managers and their subordinates, lacking the awareness and empathy you need in business.’

‘Sleepy people lack the awareness and empathy you need in business’

Chronic Insomnia Makes The Brain Eat Itself

Yup, if you’re feeling ghoulish after pulling a Netflix all-nighter then the odds are your grey matter has gone full-on cannibal. After studying the effects of sleep deprivation in mice – keeping some awake for five days in a row in a bid to mimic prolonged insomnia – a team at Marche Polytechnic University in Italy found evidence to suggest that brain cells, specifically glial cells, which clear up dead nerve cells and debris, destroy and digest worn-out cells where there is insomnia, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s. ‘There is definitely a link between sleep, which allows you to lay down memories, and Alzheimer’s, where you can’t develop new memories,’ says Stanley.

Your Body Goes Into Automatic ‘Microsleep’

Ever catch yourself nodding off at work, your breathing noticeably heavier, deeper, as you fight off slumber at the desk? It could be microsleep, the term given to mini-snooze sessions which can last up to 30 seconds when the brain goes into a sleep state rapidly, even if your eyes are open. ‘Author Wilse Webb once described sleep as the gentle tyrant,’ says Stanley; ‘you can fight it but you’ll never win. Microsleeps are the perfect example of that, as when you’re in a low stress environment, your body will switch off without you being able to do anything about it. There’s a 90-minute rhythm in our sleep linked with our dreaming state and this also occurs during the day too – daydreaming, if you will.’

Which Can Be Fatal…

America’s AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that missing just one or two hours of sleep can significantly increase your chances of causing an accident. In fact, you are four times more likely to get into an accident if you got less than seven hours of sleep the night before. Stanley agrees: ‘Sleep-related accidents on the highway account for 23% of accidents but 83% of fatalities, because of course when you lose consciousness you don’t do anything. Drunk drivers, as irresponsible as they are, can brake and can swerve. If you’re doing 60mph and fall asleep at the wheel it will take four seconds to come off the road.’

It Kills Your Sex Drive, Then Your Relationship

That’s right, there’s another sort of drive affected by poor sleeping habits and it involves your libido. A 2002 US study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that men with severe sleep apnea, a common disorder in which a person has pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during a sleep cycle, exuded abnormally low levels of testosterone while in slumber. Not that it’s the only part of a relationship affected by drowsy eyes, as Stanley reveals: ‘There is indeed a link between homeostasis - keeping the system working properly – and hormones, but sleepless people are also likely to have more arguments, show less empathy and are less likely to make up, so it’s not just on a hormonal level, it’s on a personal level too.’

Missing Sleep Will Age Your Skin

A clinical trial commissioned by Estée Lauder and conducted by physician-scientists at University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Center found that poor sleepers demonstrated increased signs of skin ageing. ‘Again, it’s about homeostasis, the balance, repair and rejuvenation, that time the body can do its housekeeping,’ according to Stanley. ‘Studies show that beauty sleep is real. People who lack sleep will look rougher, more miserable. Signs include swollen eyelids, lank hair and even a general expression – our faces betray our emotions as insomnia impairs cognitive emotions.’

‘Poor sleep has been linked to depression, diabetes, obesity, suicide risk’

The Less You Sleep, The More Likely You Are To Gain Weight

Yep, there are molecular ties between lack of sleep and weight gain. Deep down you knew it, but possibly not to this extent: ‘When we’re sleepy there’s a 33% increase in craving sugary and fatty foods, a 24% increase in appetite in general, and if you are a short sleeper as an adult in general then you’re at a 55% increased risk of obesity. Certain books say that if you get a good sleep then you’ll lose weight, which is totally wrong. But if you go to sleep for a good period you won’t put on weight, that’s true. A Swiss study followed women for 14 years and found if you get the right sleep pattern for you, you won’t put on weight overnight.’

It’s Linked To A Battery Of Diseases

Researchers from the University of Warwick found that lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. But that’s not all, says Stanley: ‘Poor sleep has been linked to depression, diabetes, obesity, suicide risk – pretty much every major illness you can think of. Homeostasis keeps everything ticking over nicely. We have all these scare stories about products that cause cancer, but we don’t in the same way look at sleep. The World Health Organisation has linked poor sleep as a probable cause of cancer. We’ve got robust data that says it’s bad for your health and people still don’t respect sleep enough.’

What Can We Do To Make The Most Of Our Sleep?

Find a pattern that works for you. The chief of Netflix once said his biggest competitor was sleep – and he’s not wrong. We’re socially conditioned to go to sleep when our partner does, or when we’ve stopped binging that new TV show. ‘We’ve forgotten to listen to our bodies. We go through life feeling tired, and we do so many things to counteract – couple of beers, few glasses of wine, visiting a spa, going on holiday, trying to make us feel better,’ says Stanley.

‘But the root cause of the problem is not getting enough sleep every night. We blame everything else before blaming the sleep pattern. Tiredness tells you nothing about sleep. It tells you that you’ve a rubbish job, you hate your commute and you hate your boss. If you climb three flights of stairs, do you need a sit down or do you need a sleep? If you’re tired, knackered or exhausted, you’re not sleepy. A lot of people go through life thinking they’re tired because they lack sleep.’

WHAT NEXT? ‘There are a million and one gadgets and wearables and they’re a complete waste of time,’ claims Stanley. ‘It’s about how you feel. Instead, invest in a cheap alarm clock so you’ve also an excuse to keep the phone away from the bed.’