By Debbie Hampton
From your skin to your job to your relationships, sleep affects everything. But these days, more of us are sleep-deprived than not. It's such a big problem that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared it a public health epidemic — similar to the warnings issued about smoking cigarettes decades ago.
Here are a few ways not sleeping is hurting you.
It's making you sick.
After just one night of skimping on sleep, you'll experience changes in mood, headache, and hormone imbalances. One week of sleeping fewer than six hours a night can result in changes to more than 700 genes. Men's brains after not sleeping for just one night show changes indicative of brain shrinkage and damage similar to a brain injury. Yikes! Ongoing insufficient sleep is linked with a laundry list of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, depression, early death, and a higher risk for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, some cancers, and multiple sclerosis.
It's making you fat.
Not getting enough sleep also contributes to packing on the pounds. After a night of insufficient sleep, people have higher levels of the hunger hormone and decreased levels of the fullness hormone. When people aren't getting enough sleep, they tend to reach for high-calorie carbs and don't have the impulse control to turn down that piece of cake.
It's making you stupid.
Lack of sleep slows down your thinking, impairs your memory, concentration, judgment, and decision-making, and impedes learning. During sleep your brain is busy processing information, consolidating memories, making connections, and clearing out toxins. When asleep, your brain does its housekeeping and not having adequate time to do this could potentially accelerate neurodegenerative diseases. Not getting enough sleep may actually shrink your brain.
The anatomy of sleep.
Sleep needs vary, but generally everyone needs seven to nine hours a night for their brain and body to perform best. And while the number of horizontal hours is important, the quality of your sleep is, too. Several times each night, your brain cycles through different stages of sleep, which determine the quality of your sleep. After an initial five to ten minutes in stage one, your brain moves into a deeper stage two, and over the next hour it goes to stages three and four, in which the electrical activity slows way down. After slow-wave sleep, your brain progresses into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, in which it becomes a lot more active.
Your brain runs through the all the sleep cycles sequentially about every 90 minutes, then starts over again at the beginning. So, if you don’t sleep contiguously, your snooze is less restorative to your brain. You'll feel it the next day even though the number of hours you slept may be OK.
Quality sleep is about good habits.
To get quality Zs, you need to practice good sleep hygiene.
Some good sleep hygiene habits are: