“I’ll sleep when I am dead.” It’s a popular refrain from people who burn the candle at both ends. However, what happens if lack of sleep is why you end up dead? That may sound a bit dramatic, but here’s a newsflash: sleep is more important to your health than all your hot yoga and juice cleanses combined. Don’t believe us? Read this.
This warning comes from Matthew Walker, a former Harvard professor and current professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California. He is a man who has studied the effects of sleep for 20 years, “After just one night of only four- or five hours’ sleep, your natural killer cells – the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day – drop by 70%.” Or even just that, “the World Health Organization has classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen.”
It should be noted that these are not the beliefs of a single man. More than 20 large-scale studies have come to the same conclusion: “The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.” Believe it or not these facts are just the tip of a very scary iceberg. One last cage rattling stat: “Adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven or eight hours a night.”
The Plot Thickens:
Now that we have impressed upon you the consequences of not sleeping, we can discuss the specifics of why. Lack of sleep affects your body and mind on many levels. Let’s start with our national epidemic: obesity. When you sleep, you increase your levels of leptin, a hormone that signals a sated stomach and decreases your “hungry hormone” called ghrelin. Combine this with soda and a sedentary lifestyle and you’ve got makings of the most obese country in the world.
How about the all-important immune system? We’ve discussed how sleep literally helps protect you from cancer, but the same is true all the way down to the common cold. How about the brain? Yup. “Lack of sleep over a lifetime will significantly raise your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Walker. Yikes!
Furthermore, sleep acts as a mental soother from the normal everyday difficulties that come with life. Ever have a bad break up or a particularly bad fight with a loved one? Wasn’t sleep the one place you could fully escape? Turns out, lack of sleep affects your mental health, too. Walker found those not getting the sleep they need have an enlarged amygdala, which is the place in our brain where the anger comes from. For kids, “sleeplessness has been linked to aggression and bullying; in adolescents, to suicidal thoughts,” he adds.
You’re probably thinking about jumping into bed after taking this in. It’s jarring information that doesn’t have a giant health organization behind it to spread the information. Posters with a nightlight, imploring you to sleep more won’t be popping up anytime soon. Nevertheless, sleep is honestly the best thing you can do for your health on every level. So, get some rest, your body and mind will thank you.
- Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker is available on Amazon.