Sleep (Part 1) – NOT a Dispensable Commodity
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- Despite the lack of knowledge regarding the origin and reason for sleep. There is no doubt that regular sleep is vital for health and is a consistent theme throughout life on earth.
- Sleep plays an integral role in the recovery, restoration and development of all systems within the human body.
- Sleep quality and quantity is on the decline in the UK.
- Raising awareness of it’s importance may change attitudes towards sleep and may improve human health on multiple levels.
A Core Function in Life
Oxygen, food, water and sleep; the absolute basic fundamentals for life, as we know it. Have you ever asked yourself why we sleep? If not, don’t worry, we don’t blame you! Doesn’t it seem like a strange phenomenon? Voluntaringly subjecting ourselves to such a vulnerable state of unconsciousness seems to fly in the face of evolution. Imagine our ancient relatives, constantly in a state of anxiety, hunting for the next meal or on the run from predators. On the face of it, it would seem that it’s really impractical to go unconscious for 8 hours?! This hasn’t gone unnoticed amongst evolutionary and sleep scientists, and according to sleep expert Matthew Walker, “The cost of losing consciousness to survival is astronomical.”
Clearly, the importance of sleep supersedes the potential dangers it invites. Sleeping is a universal truth and can be reliably observed amongst every single animal on this planet, no matter whether their species are thriving and comfortable, or starving and on the edge of extinction. The once held theory that sleep is simply a state of inactivity just doesn’t make sense.
In fact, the latest scientific research reveals just how active the brain is when we sleep and how much we suffer when sleep is deprived, even temporarily. This core function of life is a non-negotiable staple. There is even a theory that life itself started in a state of ‘sleep’ and partial to full consciousness was developed further down the evolutionary time-line.
Why Do We Sleep?
The answer is multifactorial, and remains largely a mystery. The most revered philosophers; Descarte, Malcolm, Dennett, Freud and Jung, to name a few, have all taken the matter quite seriously, and, as philosophers do, have ended up with more questions than answers.
Since the 1960’s, thanks to the advancements in technology and the development of neuroscience, we can begin to put some theories to the test and scratch the surface of this deep and complex subject.
A detailed review of the latest in sleep science isn’t within the scope of this article, but here is an overview of the crucial role sleep plays in our heath and wellbeing:
- Cognitive Function – Creates new neural pathways in order to improve memory, emotional stability, learning, decision making and reaction times. (1, 2 & 3).
- Prevents Neural Degeneration – Decreases the risk of disorders such as Dementia and Alzheimers. (4)
- Clearing, Repairing and Renewing – Initiates the activation of genes which code for regeneration of old or damaged cells. (5)
- Hormone Regulation – The circadian rhythm is tightly coupled with hormone production and inhibition, which affects insulin resistance, mood, reproductive health, appetite and metabolism. (6)
- Immune System Function – Fighting sickness and reducing the risk of disease / illness. It has been demonstrated that a lack of sleep significantly reduces the amount of NKCs (natural killer cells), which protect your body from pathogens. (7)
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The general consensus for sleep recommendations is no less than 7 hours per night for an adult, however sleep requirements change throughout our lives. Check out this graph, which outlines the most up to date recommendations on sleep divided amongst specific age groups:
As you can see there are minimum, optimum and maximum ranges for each age group. Although there are conditions in which sleeping for too long is unhealthy, this is quite nuanced and not within the scope of this article.
Most of you reading this will be over the age of 18, but it’s interesting to note that the ages at which the highest rate of development (growth, learning etc.), require the most amounts of sleep. It is logical that if you are to learn, develop and recover well as an adult, sleep is not only helpful, but absolutely crucial, and may be a huge limiting factor to your progress.
The UK’s Current Sleep Health
- According to the Great British Bedtime Report this is the average amount of Sleep Brits get per night;
- 70% of Brits get less than the recommended 7h of sleep!
- Almost half (47%) of Brits blame poor sleep on ‘stress and worry’, other causes include partner disturbance and environmental factors (light and noise).
- The average Brit goes to bed at 11.15pm and gets just six hours and 35 minutes sleep per night!
Sleep in Modern Life
The above statistics suggest that not only do we find it difficult to ‘switch off’, but we just simply don’t priorities sleep enough, or allow ourselves a realistic opportunity to get a full 7-8 hours. Sound familiar?
It is completely normal in today’s society to finish work at 6/7pm, socialise with friends or family until 10/11pm, sit in front of a screen for an hour or so to ‘wind down’, have a shower and before you know it, it’s midnight, and you’re setting your alarm for 7am the next day.
In this example you’ve given yourself a 7 hour window of opportunity for sleep. If you don’t have a solid sleep strategy in place, find it difficult to get to sleep, or your sleep is often disturbed, it’s highly unlikely you’ll squeeze in more than six hours of high quality sleep (especially if you add alcohol, caffeine and artificial light and noise into the mix, more on that in part 2).
Sleep loss due to voluntary bedtime curtailment has become a hallmark of modern society… Chronic sleep loss, [whether] behavioral or sleep disorder related, may represent a novel risk factor for a plethora of disorders, illnesses and diseases”
The Weekend Payback
Do you think you can pay back the sleep debt you’ve accrued over the week with a Saturday lay in and lazy Sunday? First of all, if you have kids or any kind of active social life, good luck with that.
Secondly, let’s do some simple math; if you owe 2 hours per night over 5 nights, that’s an extra 10 hours you have to make up over two days? So you’re going to have to sleep 13 hours on both Friday and Saturday night. It’s pretty difficult to get this amount of high quality sleep in one go.
Additionally, according to recent studies, negative consequences of partial sleep deprivation occur almost immediately. A bit like interest on a credit card. Sleep debt doesn’t remain constant. It builds compound interest over time with the negative effects exponentially increasing!
A Change in Perspective?
Sleep in this modern day and age is too often seen as inconvenient, unproductive and reserved for the lazy. Here are some questions we would like you to ponder over the next few days.
- How highly do you prioritise sleep?
- How much sleep do you average per night?
- Have you ever consciously noticed your sleep times, habits and routines?
- How long do you normally give yourself as an opportunity to sleep?
- How do you feel when you wake up?
- Do you need caffeine to feel awake in the morning?
- When was the last time you had a great night’s sleep?
We hope that this article helps to change your perspective on sleep. It’s clear that more than 7 hours of sleep a night is a non-negotiable staple of health and is not a dispensable commodity.
In part 2, we will be talking about what a good night sleep looks like and how to clean up your sleep hygiene.
Food for thought? If this has encouraged you to think about your health, fitness & wellbeing, why not click this link and fill out our enquiry form. We’d love to see how we can help you on your journey.
Disclosure: This article is not to be used as medical advice. If you are currently experiencing physical or mental health issues, please seek professional advice from a fully qualified Nutritionist, GP or Physiotherapist.
- Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Alhola, P., & Polo-Kantola, P. (2007). Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment. 3(5), 553–567.
- “A deficit in the ability to form new human memories without sleep.” Yoo, S., Hu, P. T., Gujar, N., Jolesz, F. A., & Walker, M. P. (2007). Nature Neuroscience 10(3): 385-392
- Neural basis of alertness and cognitive performance impairments during sleepiness. Effects of 24 h of sleep deprivation on waking human regional brain activity. Thomas M, Sing H, Belenky G, Holcomb H, Mayberg H, Dannals R, Wagner H, Thorne D, Popp K, Rowland L, Welsh A, Balwinski S, Redmond D. (2000) J Sleep Res. Dec;9(4):335-52
- Sleep, Cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Omonigho M. Bubu, MD, MPH, Michael Brannick, PhD, James Mortimer, PhD, Ogie Umasabor-Bubu, MD MPH, Yuri V. Sebastião, MPH, Yi Wen, MS, Skai Schwartz, PhD, Amy R. Borenstein, PhD, Yougui Wu, PhD, David Morgan, PhD. (2017) Sleep, Volume 40, Issue 1.
- Mistimed sleep disrupts circadian regulation of the human transcriptome. N. Archer, E. E. Laing, C. S. Möller-Levet, D. R. van der Veen, G. Bucca, A. S. Lazar, N. Santhi, A. Slak, R. Kabiljo, M. von Schantz, C. P. Smith, D.-J. Dijk Proc. Natl. (2014) Acad. Sci. USA (2014) 111(6)
- Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism. Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (2010). Endocrine development, 17, 11–21
- “Partial sleep deprivation reduces natural killer cell activity in humans.” Irwin, M. et al. (1994). Psychosomatic Medicine 56(6): 493-498.)