New book reveals the massive impact sleep deprivation has on your health
A new book by Sleep Scientist, Matthew Walker,
reveals the dark truth behind sleep deprivation's impact on a
person's health and well-being.
Walker, who is also director of the Centre for Human Sleep
Science at the University of California, highlights the damaging
effects of sleep deprivation and its link with Alzheimer's, cancer,
diabetes, obesity and poor mental health.
In a recent interview with the
Guardian, Walker discusses why lack-of-sleep is a modern
condition, and what happens to your body when it's deprived of
What is sleep deprivation?
Put simply, sleep deprivation is a condition where you're not
getting enough sleep.
What is a normal amount of sleep? Well,
that's quite subjective, but the NHS broadly define a 'normal'
amount of sleep as between 7-9 hours per-night.
The short-term side-effects of sleep
deprivation include: prolonged daytime tiredness, mood-swings,
hunger and clumsiness.
If you're suffering from insomnia or prolonged sleep
deprivation, and it's affecting your daily life, the NHS recommend
you make an appointment with your GP.
There are some environmental and lifestyle changes you can make
to improve the quality and length of your sleep which we'll explore
in greater detail further on.
How does sleep deprivation impact your health?
The link between shorter sleep and a shorter
lifespan has been chronicled across 20
One study revealed that adults over 45 years who sleep less than
6hrs a night are 200% more likely to have a
heart attack or stroke than someone who's sleeping 7/8hrs a
This is linked to blood pressure, where just 1 night of poor
sleep increases the rate of a person's blood pressure.
Poor sleep has long-been linked to obesity,and Walker goes into
further detail on this.
When we're not getting enough sleep we're more
susceptible to weight gain. This is because we start to
experience decreasing levels of leptin, which inhibits hunger, and
increasing levels of ghrelin, which increases hunger.
We also start to lose control of our blood sugar levels and
become less responsive to insulin, leading to a pre-diabetic state
of hyperglycaemia - a sign of diabetes.
Sleep deprivation - or insomnia - also has a detrimental
effect on our immune system.
If you're exhausted, your immune system is weakened and less
resilient to common colds, viruses and the flu.
Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation has a negative
effect on cancer-fighting immune cells, increasing the odds of
developing breast, prostate, endometrium and colon cancer.
The link between sleep and mental health
When you're in a deep sleep, you're actually in a state
of therapeutic bliss, suggests Walker.
This is echoed in a study Walker conducted where brain scans
revealed sleep deprived children experienced a 60% increase
in reactivity of the amygdala - the area of the
brain responsible for emotions such as anger and rage.
Sleeplessness in children has thus been linked to
heightened levels of aggression. Disturbingly, sleep
deprivation has also been linked to suicidal thoughts in
Why are we sleeping less?
In 1942, 8% of the population survived off less than 6 hours a
sleep per-night. In 2017, that figure has ballooned to an
But why are we sleeping less?
Walker considers multiple factors behind this phenomena,
Using electrical devices at night. LED-emitting
devices are known to impact melatonin, which is the hormone
responsible for sleep.
Work-life balance. As we work longer
hours, our sleep begins to suffer. In order to accommodate extra
hours at the office, we're sleeping less to try and squeeze in time
with the family and other social activities.
Alcohol and caffeine. Both have
detrimental effects on sleep quality and patterns. When we consume
more of both, our sleeping habits are impacted.
Our perspective of sleep. Walker argues,
as a society, we view sleep as a weakness: that admission of
tiredness is something to be ashamed of, and in turn we try to get
through the day on just a few hours of sleep fuel.
Poor sleeping environments. The NHS
suggest a poor sleeping environment, such as an uncomfortable bed or mattress, or a bedroom that's
too light, noisy, hot or cold, can prohibit quality sleep.
Physical and mental health. According to
the NHS, longer-term health conditions such as heart problems and
depression can negatively impact sleep duration and quality.
How do I get better sleep?
It's time we prioritised sleep.
Walker makes sure he allows for 8 hours of sleep every night - a
non-negotiable agreement he's made with himself. He also keeps
regular sleep hours to establish a consistent sleeping routine.
Walker also recommends that we avoid pulling 'all-nighters' of
any variety, whether that be squeezing in a few more pints at the
pub, or staying in the office until late.
In fact, after just 19 sleepless hours, you're as
cognitively impaired as someone who's drunk - this
has obvious consequences on your ability to perform tasks such as
driving or operating machinery.
Walker, however, warns against the use of sleeping
pills, which can have a damaging effect on memory.
There are also questions around the effectiveness of
over-the-counter sleeping pills for treating insomnia, as well as
concerns over how they can make individuals feel drowsy and
impaired the next day.
- Moderating alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Keeping well-hydrated
- Eating more foods that boost melatonin, the sleep hormone, such
as; chicken, milk, dairy and seeds
- Maintaining a tech-free sleeping environment to reduce the
amount of exposure to sleep-inhibiting blue light
For more sleep tips, visit our Sleep Matters blog here.
Sleep Association, "Sleep Deprivation": https://www.sleepassociation.org/sleep/sleep-deprivation/
The Guardian, "The Shorter Your Sleep, The Shorter Your Life:
The New Sleep Science":