One of the banes of modern existence is lack of sleep. The sleep deficit has been a hot topic in the news. Numerous health and wellness websites such as Harcourt Health and others speak of the detriments of insufficient sleep upon the human body and brain. So to understand what may be at stake for the individual, let’s undertake a quick review of the subject.
Ideally, the body needs eight hours of sleep a night to sufficiently recover from the stress of the day. Sleep facilitates cell regeneration and the flushing of fatigue toxins which build up in the body. At the very least, a sleep cycle in which the person awakens naturally from a night’s rest is helpful even if it does not stretch out to eight hours. The shock of awakening prematurely interrupts the processes facilitated by sleep. When this occurs repeatedly or even on a regular basis, fatigue builds up in both brain and body.
Sustained sleep deprivation negatively impacts reaction times. Staying awake all night degrades normal reaction times by up to 300% and impairs cognitive function in the same way as being legally drunk. University students and office workers, do this to themselves multiple times to keep up with work. Anyone who has pulled one or more “all-nighters” knows how it feels to try to carry on through the ensuing day. Your brain gets foggy the longer the day unfolds, and aids like caffeine end up inflicting their own damage upon the body from overuse. In the immediate short term, the mental errors resulting from ongoing sleep deprivation involve loss of cognitive processing capability, memory lapse and impairment of learning ability. Fatigue also negatively impacts upon basic decision-making, risk assessment, and moral reasoning. One’s temper becomes brittle and the individual is more anger-prone and less inhibited, resulting in poor judgment in stress situations.
Habitually pulling “all-nighters” or multiple nights of four hours of sleep or less has a cumulative effect. The ongoing buildup of fatigue causes the immune system to function less efficiently, increasing susceptibility to illness. The cell regeneration process cannot operate as effectively. Over the long term, this can increase one’s risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia in old age. But because of our high pressure lives and increased workloads we take on, we do not allow ourselves the sleep we need to let the body repair itself.