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Sleep: It's More Important Than You Think!

Sleep: It's More Important Than You Think!

Sleep is vital for our longevity and for a healthy mind and body. When we sleep, our brains physically repair our bodies and regulate important hormones, which control the functioning of our bodies during the day. If we don’t get the right amount of sleep or the right kind of sleep in the long term, then our bodies will not be properly repaired during the night.

Fun fact:

There is an internationally recognized World Sleep Day, held on the third Friday of March each year (it was observed on Friday 18 March 2022 and will be on Friday 17 March 2023). It is an annual event, intended to be a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving. It is organized by the World Sleep Day Committee of World Sleep Society  — yes, that’s a real thing! — and aims to lessen the burden of sleep problems on society through better prevention and management of sleep disorders.

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep every night?

A lack of quality sleep can negatively affect concentration, memory and cause us to be groggy. This is due to not completing the full sleep cycles. Sleep is made up of three main parts. Dreaming sleep (REM sleep), light sleep and deep sleep. These happen in sleep cycles throughout the night – always starting as light sleep, deep sleep, back to light sleep and then dreaming sleep, then the cycle repeats again.

Each sleep cycle is approximately 90-110 minutes long. As much as “deep sleep” might sound like it is the most important part of sleep, that isn’t really true. We need all the different parts of our sleep to be healthy as they provide different functions. This is why we feel groggy after a 50-minute nap, it is because we are not completing our full cycle.

Sometimes, you are aware of waking between sleep cycles, which is perfectly normal. Normal sleep cycles are around 90-110 minutes long and repeat across the night, and everyone usually stirs briefly between each sleep cycles. You are sometimes aware of this and sometimes not. Broken sleep isn’t a major problem, especially if your awakening isn’t too long and you can get back to sleep relatively quickly.

Other times, you may wake within a sleep cycle itself. This is more damaging to our sleep. Sleep apnoea, a condition when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep, is a common cause of this. If this is the reason you are experiencing broken sleep, then you should speak to a professional.

The effects of a bad night’s sleep

A one-off bad night is not the end of the world. However, if you are regularly struggling to sleep, being disturbed or struggling to get good quality sleep, then the effects on your health and every day life can be detrimental.

Read on to explore some of the different effects of a bad night’s sleep: 

Weight Gain

When we don’t get enough sleep, we not only eat more calories, but we also choose foods that are not as good for us.

There are two neurotransmitters that control appetite – ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin makes you feel hungry, while leptin helps you feel full

When you don’t sleep enough, studies show that you have increased levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin. This results in you feeling hungrier and having to eat more food before you feel full, which in turn can lead to weight gain.

Also, when you are awake for longer, evidence suggests you have the opportunity to eat more calories.

Problems at Work

It may seem obvious but a link can also be drawn between consistent problems with sleep, i.e. insomnia, and an increased risk of accidents at work and on the road.

Furthermore, bad sleep can lead individuals to struggle to concentrate at work. Those who are not sleeping well are also more likely to take time off from work, due to sickness and ill health.


If we do not get enough sleep, evidence also shows that our immune system can become impaired.

A 2019 study demonstrated that the sleeping brain also has waves of cerebrospinal fluid that wash through it during sleep. Its role is to wash away amyloid plaques, which are linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

If you don’t get enough sleep then your brain won’t have time to do this ‘physical cleaning’ and the amyloid plaques may build up, increasing the likelihood of you getting Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, it appears that a lack of deep sleep is also associated with an increased risk of dementia. However, it is not clear whether the dementia causes a reduction in deep sleep or the reduction in deep sleep causes the dementia.

There are multiple studies showing that when someone has depression or anxiety, they have an increased risk of insomnia and vice versa. Whichever one you have, you will likely have an increase in the other. In addition, when someone has insomnia they are at an increased risk of suicide.

In opposition, studies have shown that people who slept better were less likely to be depressed. So, once again, good sleep shows itself to be very important for our mental and physical well-being.

The benefits of a good night’s sleep

Firstly, let’s define what is a good night’s sleep. For a working age adult, the recommendations are that you should get between seven and nine hours sleep, per night. If you take a nap during the day, then your sleep needs that night will be reduced. Although these are the recommendations based on scientific studies, there are people who will need slightly less sleep and those who will need slightly more. The best way to tell if you are getting enough sleep is if you wake up feeling refreshed and do not feel sleepy during the day.

How can you get a better night's sleep?

  1. Have a regular bedtime and wake time

Keeping a regular wake up and bed time seven days per week will help you sleep better. When you keep a regular sleep schedule your body develops a robust circadian rhythm, which helps you to sleep at the right time at night. If you go to bed early and wake up early on weekdays, but stay up late and have a lie-in on the weekend, you are giving yourself weekend “jet-lag” – making it much harder to go to sleep early on a Sunday night ready for another early start on Monday morning!

  1. Increase your exercise levels

As well as being essential for overall health, exercise directly impacts your need for “deep sleep” at night. The more you exercise, the more deep sleep you will have. Deep sleep helps you to feel refreshed when you wake up and helps with sleep continuity.

Make sure that you exercise during the daytime and not too close to bedtime, as exercise in the evening can sometimes be disruptive to sleep, due to the release of endorphins and adrenaline.

  1. Stop your caffeine intake at 2pm

Caffeine has an average half life of 5-7 hours. That means that 5-7 hours after your cup of coffee, half of the caffeine is still in your system! Caffeine is not only found in tea and coffee, but also in chocolate and in soft drinks, such as cola and energy drinks, including the sugar-free variety. If you have trouble sleeping, then it is recommended for you to have your last cup of caffeine of the day at around 2pm.

  1. Night time digital detox

Smartphones emit blue light which is similar to daylight. This tricks the brain into thinking it is day time which can make it difficult to transition into sleep mode when bedtime rolls around. Try reading a book or meditating before you sleep instead.

  1. Have a warm bath before bed

If you have a warm bath, then you artificially raise your body temperature and when you come out of the warm bath, your body temperature will naturally start to drop, mimicking the drop in temperature that happens as you fall asleep, making you feel sleepier.

  1. Don’t lie in bed for long periods if you can’t sleep

If you can’t sleep, then lying still in bed trying to sleep is one of the worst things you can do. The longer you lie in bed trying to sleep and clock watching, paradoxically, the more anxious you are likely to get about not sleeping.

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