The Scary Ways Your Sleep Habits Are Destroying Your Health
The good news is, even if you’re an insomniac, there’s a really easy way to get good at getting more shut-eye.
Sure, doctors, the media, and our moms all chide us to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. But, when it comes to sleep and my health, I’m not very good at taking advice, especially when my cellphone is permanently attached to my hand.
And I’m guessing I’m not alone.
“Many of us are sleeping an average of only 6.5 hours a night; a far cry from the 8.5 hours our grandparents slept,” agrees sleep expert and managing director of Sleep for Health, Dr Carmel Harrington.
Harrington’s so passionate about getting us all to recoup those lost hours, she’s teamed up with bedding manufacturer A.H. Beard to develop a free 6-Week Sleep Challenge – a simple, no-pressure guide that tells you how to boost your sleep with very doable weekly tips, such as “put gadgets out of sight,” or “limit drinks after 7 p.m.”
You get a whole week to put each tip into practice, so, even during the most wretched dates (your coffee-maker died! School’s starting!), you’re bound not to screw them up. She coaches you along the way, and there are even prizes on offer to incentivize you to stick to your sleep goals.
But why is sleep so important, anyway? I mean, can a few hours of extra Zs a night really make that much of a difference? According to the experts, if you aren’t getting your recommended nightly amount of shut-eye, you’re probably already suffering without even realizing it. Here’s how…
1. Sleep deprivation causes weight gain
Did you hear the one about the sleep-deprived careerwoman who finally got a good night’s rest and woke up looking like Wonder Woman Gal Gadot?
Those diet supplement pop-up ads and infomercials would like us to believe stories like that are legit. But, wait, it turns out there is some truth to the oft-perpetuated urban legend that sleep helps you slim down.
People who snoozed seven to nine hours burned 20 percent more calories after eating the next day than those who skimped on Zs, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
They even vaporized another five percent more calories just sitting at their desks (i.e. not working out) than their sleepier peers. And there are more purported benefits to sleeping longer, from taking fewer sick days to being more alert and productive for work…
2. You’re way – like, WAY – more likely to get sick
I dread needles, so when human resources comes around collecting names for “free flu-season shots,” you can bet I’ve hightailed it to the nearest supply closet. That usually backfires later, however, when I’m home sniffling, feverish and hugging the toilet in my Harry Potter pajamas.
If you’re shot-phobic like me, better start investing in your sleep bank instead. Harrington says sleep really does affect the body’s ability to fight off infections.
Without adequate rest, “we are much more likely to catch a cold or flu,” she says.
Science backs her up. Depressingly, people who slumbered less than six hours each night were found to be a whopping four times more likely to develop a cold, University of California, San Francisco researchers revealed in a study published in the journal, Sleep.
Infection-fighting antibodies are released when we sleep, doctors at the Mayo Clinic explain, so the less we snooze, the more vulnerable we are to the green meanies.
3. You’re literally worse off tired than drunk
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said, “I’ll just answer one more email,” only to find myself firing off “brilliant” electronic missives till well past midnight. Beanbag desk chairs for the entire office? Genius!
But, as Harrington explains, those after-midnight inspirations aren’t quite as impressive under the cold, fluorescent lights of day. They may not even be readable.
“When sleep-deprived, tasks are performed with a higher error rate. Indeed, the negative effects on our brain function are so great that people who are legally intoxicated outperform those lacking sleep,” she says.
Cringe. The last thing I want to do is drunk-mail my boss (*shudder*).
Consider me signed up to the free sleep challenge. I’ll see you on the other side of a good night’s rest.
Images via tumblr.com and giphy.com.
Improve your sleep too, by signing up to the free 6-Week Sleep Challenge here now.
Comment: How many hours a night’s sleep do you average?