We all think we know how important sleep is. And we all think we know what happens when we are under-slept. But did you know that adjusting the clock forward in spring (and losing merely an hour of sleep) results in 24% increase in heart attacks the day after, globally? Conversely, moving the clock an hour backwards in fall (and gaining just one hour of sleep) results in 24% decrease of heart attacks the day after, also globally! On the face of it, one wonders what happens when we are chronically under-slept, and not just by one hour. Read the article below to find out and to learn what you can do to help the situation.
Are you underestimating the importance of sleep?
Everybody needs between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep a day to function properly, including elderly people. (Obviously, babies need more than that but that’s a topic for another discussion altogether.) It’s a myth that the older you get, the less sleep you need. In fact, it’s the opposite – the older you get the more important it becomes to get enough good quality sleep (i.e. 8 hours on average), or else your health and life are endangered. It’s true that older people lose the ability to sleep long enough and well enough (due to decreased production of melatonin, body pain and aches, hormonal imbalances, etc.). But sleep can be trained no matter your age. In fact, sleep should be trained or else bad things happen, as I explain below.
Picture this: men who sleep 5 hours a night have much smaller testicles than those who sleep 7+ hours. Also, men who sleep only 5 hours a night have the level of testosterone characteristic of people 10 years their senior. In other words, sleep deprivation ages men by approximately a decade in terms of their sexual and reproductive abilities. The same goes for women.
Under-slept individuals do not only suck in bed, they are poor learners as well. Thus, an experiment was performed where group A slept for 8 hours and group B were sleep deprived for one night. The next day everybody tried to learn a list of facts under the observation of an MRI brain scan. The results – the sleep deprived group B showed a 40% deficit in their ability to make new memories. If you think about it, a child failing 40% of an exam could mean they can’t pass that exam at all. And now think about dementia – older people sleep less and forget more. Is this a coincidence? Science is now confirming that this is not coincidental; rather, there is a direct causal relationship between sleep deprivation and dementia, Alzheimer’s and even Parkinson’s.
Now, let’s look at the immune system. The body makes the so called killer cells whose job is to identify cancer cells, viruses, bacteria, etc. and eliminate them. So scientists took a group of individuals, restricted their sleep to 4 hours for one single night, and observed a subsequent 70% reduction in natural killer cell activity. That’s an astounding rate of immune deficiency that occurred in just one night of sleep deprivation! No wonder the World Health Organization has classified night time shiftwork as carcinogenic – there is a significant association observed between not getting enough good quality sleep and increased risk of bowel cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
In another experiment, a group of healthy individuals’ sleep was restricted to 6 hours a night for one week, and the change in gene activity profile was measured against the gene activity profile of the same individuals when they slept 8 hours a night. As it turned out, under sleep deprivation about 350 genes that help the immune system function were downregulated/switched off. In the same sleep deprivation conditions, another 350 genes associated with promotion of tumors, long term chronic inflammation, stress and cardio-vascular disease were upregulated/switched on.
To sum up, the bad news is that the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. However, the good news is that sleep can be trained and sleep quality can be improved, no matter what age you are and what your current habits are. Need help? Here is your 21-day Sleep Solution.