Sleep is one of the most important regulatory processes in human beings. Aside from being necessary in order not to feel tired, sleep also provides a variety of other benefits, such as expelling toxins in the body and maintaining physical health. Yet, sleep is one of the first things students and employees sacrifice in order to meet deadlines or get more work done. Some people even neglect to sleep in favour of finishing one last episode of their favourite television series or playing a video game for a little longer.
Whether it’s for work or just a little bit more leisure, you should never borrow from your sleep to make time for other things. The NHS recommends at least 9–12 hours of sleep for children, 8-10 hours of sleep for adolescents, and a minimum of 6–9 hours of sleep for adults. Here are five reasons why it’s a bad idea to stop yourself from getting enough sleep.
Lack of sleep can make it harder to handle stress
During sleep, a wide range of processes occurs in the brain that can help manage its functions and abilities. One of these processes is the regulation of hormones, including cortisol, which is responsible for the feeling of stress.
Cortisol activates the body’s fight-or-flight response, acting as an internal alarm system when a person undergoes duress or other negative stimuli. Studies have shown that irregular sleep can result in the overproduction of cortisol during the day, resulting in even small sources of stress creating an extreme feeling of panic and anxiety.
This is especially problematic in the modern world. The mechanism of cortisol evolved to ensure human ancestors could react fast enough in response to a dangerous situation, such as a predator appearing, to stay alive by either running away or fighting. Today, however, it is scarcely possible to run away from or fight sources of stress such as a presentation at work or an exam.
An excessively high build-up of cortisol can have other negative effects on your health, as well. It isn’t possible to make up for poor sleep at night with short naps during the day either; sleep occurs in stages, the most important of which is REM, which generally occurs cyclically after 90 minutes of sleep. Many of the most important processes of sleep occur during REM cycles, including the regulation of hormones in the body.
Sleep deprivation affects your memory
Not getting enough sleep at night can also adversely affect memory. Studies have shown that adults who sleep less than six hours a day perform markedly worse at knowledge retention memory tests. During sleep, the brain processes information received during the day, forming new neural pathways to encode the information into long-term memory.
Without enough time for this to occur, information isn’t able to be stored efficiently in the brain. Sleep plays a large role in learning and remembering new information. It’s important to keep that in mind the next time you consider staying up late to practice a presentation or memorize notes for a test.
Lack of sleep makes it hard to focus
Failing to sleep enough has also been shown to have negative effects on the ability of individuals to concentrate and pay attention during the day. Sleep deprivation can result in people spontaneously falling asleep for a few moments throughout the day, a phenomenon known as microsleep. It becomes harder to stay alert while fatigued.
A lack of sleep can also result in symptoms such as dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches, which further limits focus and attention. It’s hard to work or learn if you’re constantly nodding off. No doubt, getting enough sleep is necessary for focus and concentration the next day.
Insomnia impairs logical reasoning ability
Studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation can slow down thought processes, impairing logical reasoning and cognitive processing ability. Failing to get enough sleep can result in worse decision-making during the day, as well as hurting a person’s ability to do work related to logical reasoning and problem-solving. Sleep is absolutely essential to help you function at your best the next day.
A lack of sleep is also commonly associated with a variety of mental illnesses and disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing a mental illness, as well as exacerbating existing mental health problems and conditions.
While sleep deprivation worsens the effects of mental illnesses, mental illness is also a common cause of sleep deprivation. This results in a vicious cycle for people who suffer from mental illness that is hard to break free from alone. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness, please consider finding a licensed therapist, whether you find a therapist online or through a referral, who can provide support and treatment.
Sleep is clearly necessary for human beings to function at their best. If you’ve been struggling with getting the necessary amount of sleep at night, hopefully these five considerations can help to dissuade you the next time you feel like putting off sleep to do other things.
Nothing is more important than getting the necessary amount of shut-eye at night. If you suffer from insomnia or low-quality sleep, consider researching some tips and methods for how to sleep better. By making sleep a priority, you can finally tackle your responsibilities – without feeling drained or exhausted even before you begin.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.