Sleep is very much a contemporary concern. We blame technology, work schedules, caffeine and alcohol; the inability to turn off and enjoy a good night’s sleep.
For some years now, we have been warned that the modern world is sleepwalking into ‘a global sleep crisis.’ The issue is that our modern life is moving faster; it is advancing and changing in a way that interrupts our relationship with sleep for the worse with an increasing number of people now suffering sleep deprivation. The obvious blame was swiftly put on technology, but many aspects of modern society seem to be playing their part with a lack of sleep resulting in many increased risks to our health.
Are You a Risky Sleeping Type?
Firstly, who is most at risk of sleep deprivation and why?
Our sleep preference, or types, and our circadian (24-hour) rhythm are predefined by genetics and are largely dictated to by science rather than other factors. These types, can be categorized into three formations: morning types, evening types and those who lie in between. Morning types have a slight majority over the other two, which make up roughly 30% of the population each.
Our modern society is tuned to these morning types, who wake around dawn and can adapt to work and daily activities relatively easily. Those who fall victim to modern society are evening types; failing to fall asleep until 3am obviously makes rising for a 8am start a true struggle.
Science is now honing in on exactly what the effects of modern sleep issues and deprivation can mean to our health. The recent chronobiology study from the University of Surrey reported that evening types have a 10 percent increased risk of dying in comparison of morning types, due to health issues resulting from there shorter sleep durations. The most common cause of death in these individuals was cardiovascular disease, with other’s mortality relating to a range of health issues including psychological disorders, diabetes or respiratory disorders.
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The Physical Effects
Very often when we get ill, be it struck by the flu or that run-down feeling from overworking, sleep is our go-to remedy. If you are sleep deprived your immune system won’t be functioning at its best; you’ll be more susceptible to picking up bugs and you’ll take a bit longer getting rid of them.
Though the mentioned mortality threat above is a bit of a shock, generally the risk of death is low. There are, however, greater risks to physical and mental health: risk of damage to your immune system, of diabetes, respiratory disease, gastrointestinal problems, and psychological illnesses.
The University of Surrey’s study into chronobiology shows that evening types are have an increased risk of diabetes. To break this down simply, this is because a lack of sleep alters the body’s ability to effectively control blood sugar.
Regular sleep deprivation has also been shown to impede carbohydrate metabolism and reduces glucose tolerance. When cells are unable to effectively control blood sugar, they become less responsive to insulin leading to an increased risk of developing into hyperglycaemia: the prediabetic state. This results in a decreased insulin sensitivity, increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Sleep alone isn’t causing obesity, but it is a contributing factor; alongside diet and sedentary lifestyle. A lack of sleep results in decreased levels of the hormone leptin, which detects satiety - that feeling of a balance between energy and appetite. It simultaneously results in the increase of the hormone ghrelin, which signals hunger.
Also, a tiredness can affect your motivation; leaving those aiming to get fit or increase their exercise in a pickle. Read more about the effects of sleep on exercise in our article the effect of sleep on exercise.
The Risk to Your Mental Health
As sleep deprivation is impacting your physical health and increasing your chances of having a chronic illnesses, there is also an overwhelming risk to your mental health. If you are a night owl and suffering from a lack of sleep, the University of Surrey’s study into chronobiology showed that you are 94% more likely to have psychological problems as
Sleep and dreaming are therapeutic states, and if you are not getting enough then you are not getting enough natural therapy. As an evening type then, your moods and emotions are far more amplified.
When it comes to mental health and sleep, there is somewhat of a chicken-and-egg scenario, with one commonly held view being that mental disorders cause sleep disruption. However, one sleep scientist Matthew Walker suggests that it is a ‘two way street.’ Walker’s own experience and research as director of the Center for Human Sleep Science has led him to believe that regular sleep improves the health of those with bipolar disorder and sleep deprivation is a factor in those battling addiction.
The risk for adults that are night owls is the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The study can be quite difficult for non-science types to get their head around, so allow me to summarize: amyloid deposits accumulate in an increased and excessive amount in the brains of those who suffer from Alzheimer's. These deposits kill surrounding cells, but normally our body is tuned to cleaning these deposits during our sleep cycles. However, for those who don’t get a deep enough sleep, the result is that they remain in the brain and suffer from these plaques building up.
The obvious correlation between sleep and stress is that stress impacts our ability to sleep. But the reverse is also true; a lack of sleep impacts how we experience stress. If you’ve had less than 8 hours sleep, moderately stressful tasks will seem even more stressful than they would to those functioning on a full night’s rest.
Feeling this stress can then lead to difficulty sleeping, resulting in a potentially strenuous and vicious cycle of stress versus sleep. By focusing on improving your sleep and making it a priority in your lifestyle, your experience of stress in situations will decrease.
You can also read our article on how to manage your stress and how CBD can be used for stress or how CBD can be used for a better sleep; from here a reduced stress and improved sleep will break you away from the sleep-stress cycle.