Sleep is a contributing factor to our health; a severe lack of it can have a massively detrimental effect on our wellbeing. Not only do we function less well without enough quality shuteye, it can also lead to some serious long-term health problems. A study earlier this year - Sleep: A Global Perspective - highlighted sleep trends and habits around the world and found that 61% of Brits felt they needed seven to nine hours each night to be at their most productive. Indeed, another study investigated the risk to night workers of operating through the wee small hours - a work pattern that flies in the face of our body clocks. It went as far as to suggest that it can throw the body 'into chaos' if out of synch with usual day-night behaviour and could even cause long-term damage. So, if night-time sleep is so precious, why do most of us seemingly take it for granted? Here, we list some of the lesser-known signs that suggest we're missing out on high quality rest…
1. Your complexion is less than perfect. Everyone needs beauty sleep. Lacklustre skin, a breakout of spots and too many 'sags and bags 'may indicate you are skimping on your ZZZZs. There are a number of reasons for this:
- A lack of quality sleep can lead to stress which, in turn, means the body makes more of the stress hormone, cortisol, and this will increase inflammation.
- Your immune system produces cytokines while you sleep - these are the proteins that help protect against infections and inflammation. But take note, the body cannot fight off infection if it hasn't switched off at night.
- Recent research found that sleep-deprived women suffer premature skin ageing and a decrease in the skin's ability to recover after exposure to the sun - signs include fine lines, uneven pigmentation, slackening of skin and reduced elasticity.
2. You cannot think straight. Poor sleep reduces the ability to make decisions and increases the risk of making mistakes. Sluggishness from poor sleep challenges our sharp thinking and impacts on our bid to react quickly to events and circumstances that require it. We may also suffer a loss of memory and any routine tasks involving problem solving and time management skills will become even more difficult to carry out.
3. You've lost your mojo. Feeling uninspired? Tired and emotional? Weepy and short- tempered? We all feel frazzled after a night on the tiles - multiply that by several nights and the brain suffers because it misses out on that much-needed time spent in a lower gear. In order to function properly and efficiently, the brain needs us to sleep so it can reorder thought processes and assess the day's events and our experiences of them. Research suggests that sleep helps clear toxic molecules from the brain, too.
4. You're hungry - and piling on the pounds. If the brain is not getting the energy it needs from sleep, it will often try to get it from food. We may suffer some serious craving and, if we're awake at night, may even indulge in some sneaky snacking. Try to resist! We can also gain weight - let's face it, when we're tired, we often cannot be bothered to prepare a healthy meal and will be tempted to order that calorific takeaway. Poor sleep affects our blood sugar regulation and, as we stop watching what we're eating, we also crave a sugar hit. Scientists also found that just four and a half hours of sleep for four days straight can reduce our fat cells' ability to respond to insulin (the hormone responsible for regulating energy) by 30%.
5. You are impulsive. We have all had those moments of impulse buys and desires. Think about it - did they occur after a lack of snooze time? Scientists suggest poor sleep exhausts our internal resources and willpower. One study found that substance abuse, gambling and excessive spending can all be curbed with some decent sleeping habits.
- Dim the lights about an hour before bed to signal to your body that sleep time is approaching
- Make your bedroom peaceful and relaxing by keeping it clutter-free and electronic gadget-free - and that includes the TV!
- Use an old-fashioned clock as an alarm and switch off that mobile! Light receptors in the retina signal to the brain about the status of the outside world and may affect sleep-wake rhythms
- Keep your bedroom cool for sleep so switch off the radiators at night-time, however cold it may be outside
- Choose mattresses and pillows comfortable for you
- Burning perfumed oils and having a lavender-scented bath before bedtime will help to relax you
- Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
- Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
- Avoid nicotine completely.