We’ve long heard that not getting enough sleep is not good for you, but you might be hard-pressed to say why. You might be able to conjure up something about not performing very well cognitively the following day, but the reality is far more grave.
It is not a stretch to say that sleep is central to everything regarding our long-term health. After listening to a recent TED talk by Matt Walker, a sleep scientist, it became very apparent just how much we’re jeopardising our health by missing out on sleep.
Firstly, there are the effects on our minds. The decline in our cognitive function after a night of no sleep, or sleep deprivation, is staggering. Furthermore, we can’t convert memories from our short term memory to our long-term memory, so anything you learned during the day, you will likely forget.
What was more striking and more concerning to me were the effects that sleep deprivation have on our bodies. Our immune system response drops by about 70% after a poor night of sleep, which is why we so often get sick when we’re not sleeping well. As something of a double-whammy, certain types of cells become more active after little sleep, including those that produce tumours. With a suppressed immune system and tumours eager to grow, a lack of sleep makes the likelihood of getting cancer much stronger. It is this combination of factors that have led the World Health Organisation to classify sleep-interrupting shift work as a carcinogen.
Do yourself a favour: listen to this TED talk and hear why neglecting sleep is so detrimental to your health. I suspect that you’ll consider whether you need to make some changes to your own sleeping habits.