We may acknowledge that sleep is vital to our health, but we may not fully grasp just how important it is to our overall well-being. From our eating habits to our mood – sleep impacts every aspect of our lives.
To give you a clearer picture of how sleep affects us, here’s a list of five surprising sleep facts that could be affecting your life.
Just one sleepless night can decrease cognitive abilities
It may be tempting to sacrifice a few hours of sleep to get more work done, but studies show a lack of sleep can have a drastic effect on our cognitive abilities. Just one night of lost or reduced sleep can produce symptoms such as poor decision-making, inability to focus, slow response time, and an increased chance of error.
While we may think giving up sleep is affording us more time for productivity, it actually has the reverse effect.
Trying to function in this state, often referred to as ‘brain fog’, can not only cause lost hours of work, but it can also be hazardous. A study shows half of the US population has admitted to driving drowsy at some point. 20 per cent of those surveyed admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. In fact, 2019 statistics show 6,400 US deaths were due to drowsy driving.
Sleep deprivation impacts your decision making skills
We make critical decisions every day – from money to diet – we are continually making choices that impact our lives. Research shows sleep deprivation negatively affects our ability to make even small choices. Medical evidence shows 13 healthy adults, ages 21–35, were more likely to make risky decisions with their money when sleep deprived.
This risky behaviour is due to our inability to understand consequences while our cognitive abilities are impaired.
Lack of sleep effects the foods you crave
When you are sleepy, do you often crave junk food? The reason for this is due to hormonal changes that occur when we are sleep deprived. When we lack rest, the brain sends signals that try to make up for a lack of energy. These signals will often cause an increased craving for sugar since it is high in glucose and can cause energy spikes.
Additionally, sleep loss can also slow down metabolism. The extra junk food consumption and a slower metabolism can cause those who are sleep deprived to experience weight gain. Since a lack of sleep also puts you at a higher risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, this can be a dangerous combination.
Dreams can help regulate your mood
Dreams may seem like a simple byproduct of sleep. We don’t often remember them, and it isn’t easy to pin down precisely what they might mean. However, it turns out that dreams are vital for regulating our moods.
Research shows dreams can work as an overnight therapy session. Studies claim that as we dream during REM, key emotions and memories tend to come up. However, during sleep, we are entirely devoid of anxiety due to a lack of the noradrenaline hormone. This state means we can replay emotional experiences without stress and worry.
Some believe this process helps us work through unsettling issues in a safe environment, which, in this case, is our brain. This process takes the pain out of traumatic events and memories.
More money means better sleep
More money equals better sleep for many Americans. This fact is primarily due to a lack of financial stress those with a higher income experience. Those with an income below the poverty line, which was $25,750 in 2019, are more likely to lose sleep over financial worry. According to the US Census Bureau, about 1 in every 8 Americans live below this level.
These statistics mean that sleep-related health risks such as heart disease, obesity, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and diabetes will largely fall on more impoverished Americans. In turn, this causes an increase in the mortality rate among this group of Americans.
The above facts are alarming, but fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to improve your sleep. Consider creating a set bedtime and wake up to ensure you get a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night and getting a memory foam mattress. To reduce stress before bed, consider relaxing activities such as taking a warm bath or shower, journalling, or performing breathing exercises.
Lastly, be sure to avoid electric light at least two hours before bedtime. This light can interfere with your melatonin production and inhibit sleep.
Image credit: Freepik
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He is also the editor-in-chief of Psychreg Journal Psychology, and writes a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today.
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