Sleep-deprived? This is why it’s bad for you

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In 2017, the first ever world-wide Sleep Census revealed that only one in five South Africans get a full eight hours of sleep each night. 80% of our population is sleep-deprived and 85% of South Africans feel their personal life could benefit from a better nights sleep. With increased work hours and longer commutes to and from work it is no wonder that our sleep has felt the pinch.

Can we afford to get less than the 7,5 hours sleep we need each night?

Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and leading author, says in his latest work: ‘The importance of sleep, quite seriously, cannot be overstated. It is more powerfully linked to our mortality than nutrition and exercise." For a healthy nation, we need healthy sleep.

To help us see the importance of sleep, we take a look inside the body to see what sleep-deprivation looks like on a cellular level:

1. Your brain starts eating itself - That’s the reason why you feel foggy and find it hard to find words… the pathways you need are literally disappearing as you speak. Problem-solving, resilience and creativity are not friends of sleep-deprivation.
2. Your muscles start wearing and tearing - Every cell in your body recovers, regrows and repairs during sleep. Without the right amount of rest, you will have muscle aches and pains now and increased chance of injury in the long-term.
3. Your immune system crashes - Your body’s defense system is slow to detect intruders and even slower to react appropriately. There may be no response and you fall ill or the wrong response, such as an auto-immune response where your body attacks itself. Think asthma, eczema and allergies.
4. Your sex drive takes a dive - The testosterone that both men and women need to feel sexy is made during sleep. So skip the Zzzz and you are likely to skip the Oh oh oh as well.
5. Your mind starts warping – Psychiatric illnesses such anxiety, depression, bipolar mood disorder and Alzheimer’s disease all have one thing in common: sleep deprivation. It is unclear what comes first, the mental disorder or the sleep disorder but one thing is clear: getting enough sleep is a protective factor against developing a mental illness. It is also a factor in coping and recovering from mental illness.
6. Your mood turns rather blue - The more you sleep, the happier you shall be. Dopamine and seretonin are made while we sleep and stored for the day ahead. Skip enough sleep and you may end up feeling helpless and hopeless – two descriptions linked to depression. Sleep-deprived people are also more likely to have conflicts with their colleagues and family members.

Kate Leaver describes sleep as “the Swiss Army knife of medicine”, for good reason. Want to maximise the benefits you could get from your sleep? Read more on this Sealy blog: 50 things you need to know about sleep.

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