What Happens When You Sleep for Less Than 8 Hours a Day?

Almost everyone I have spoken to in the last few weeks of leading the pandemic-struck life has told me their sleep cycle has gone for a toss. The most obvious reason to me is the sudden increase in the average screen time.

Geetika Guleria
Exploring Wellness

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Source: Unsplash

We’re constantly switching from our phones to laptops and vice versa. There are enough studies that correlate night-time phone usage with disrupted sleep patterns.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is here to stay and the ill-effects of bad sleep patterns are long-term. Which is why it felt like a public duty to share key reasons why you need to make conscious efforts to get your sleep pattern back to normal.

I recently read “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker — a British scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on the impact of sleep on human health and disease. To quote an excerpt from the book:

“Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep — even moderate reductions for just one week — disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic”

The rest of this article is a further attempt to convince you to get 8 hours of daily sleep.

A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow

Sleep disruption further exacerbates the situation and contributes to all major psychiatric conditions like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Isolation in this pandemic is not the only reason a lot of us are going through heightened anxiety.

Less sleep -> Mindless eating

When you sleep too little, your body secretes too much of a hormone that makes you feel hungry and suppresses a companion hormone that signals food satisfaction. Moreover, it is futile to diet while not getting enough sleep, since the weight you lose in this case comes from lean body mass, not fat.

The evil evening coffee

As long as you’re awake, your body produces a chemical called adenosine. It increases the “sleep pressure” by turning down the activity of wake-promoting regions of the brain and turning up the dial on sleep-inducing ones.

Caffeine mutes this signal by latching on to adenosine receptors- which is why you feel so active after coffee. Caffeine’s half-life in the human body is 5–7 hours, which means it tricks your brain into believing it doesn’t need sleep for many hours.

BTW, caffeine is also present in dark chocolate, ice cream, weight-loss pills, and pain relievers. Be wary of usage.

Sleep debt and chronic fatigue

When you wake up in the morning, if you can fall back asleep at around 11 AM, that means you’re not getting enough sleep. Also, if you can barely operate in the morning without caffeine, you’re self-medicating your state of chronic sleep deprivation.

Like interest on loans, the sleep debt continues to build up, resulting in chronic fatigue and other mental and physical ailments.

A sleep-deprived brain becomes dysfunctional

After 16 hours of being awake, the brain starts becoming dysfunctional. More than seven hours of sleep every 24 hours are needed to maintain cognitive performance.

After 10 days of just 7 hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after being sleep deprived for 24 hours. It takes more than 3 nights of recovery sleep to get the brain back to normal.

Too little sleep could spell Alzheimer’s

Amyloid protein — the poisonous element associated with Alzheimer’s is evacuated by the glymphatic system during sleep. It is also responsible for attacking the deep-sleep-generating regions of the brain.

When an adult is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a vicious cycle is created. Without sufficient sleep, amyloid builds up, which causes less deep sleep. Less sleep means more amyloid and the cycle goes on.

Getting too little sleep across the adult life span can significantly increase the risk of this disease.

Your workout offers no defence against lack of sleep

A lack of sleep erodes the fabric of coronary arteries. Getting just 5–6 hours of sleep every night over a number of years leads to a 200–300 percent higher risk of calcification of these arteries over the next 5 years.

When you hear of fit, marathon-running young adults falling prey to heart attacks, their sleep schedule is most likely to blame.

A higher risk of cancer

With each passing year of research, more forms of malignancies are being linked to insufficient sleep.

Sleeping 6 hours or less is associated with a 40% increased risk of developing cancer.

Nigh-time shift work, which often messes up the body’s circadian rhythm and sleep pattern, has been declared by the WHO as a probable carcinogen, that’s how damning the evidence is.

Dividing the 8 hours of sleep

Most adults sleep in a mono-phasic pattern (one long stretch in 24 hours). However, the practice of biphasic sleeping offers some benefits. The most useful biphasic pattern consists of a long bout of sleep at night followed by a short nap in the afternoon. Advantages of a nap:

  1. A reduced risk of heart disease.
  2. All humans experience a dip in their alertness in the mid-afternoon hours. Napping during that time improves productivity later.
  3. The brain can only absorb so many facts in wakefulness. During sleep, it transfers data from the brain’s “RAM”(temporary memory) regions to the brain’s “ROM” (permanent memory) regions. This gives the brain the ability to process new information after a good nap.

To sum it up

Chronic sleep loss increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, depression, and cardiovascular disease.

8 hours of daily sleep, especially in a biphasic manner, are a big step towards a healthy life.

*Published in public interest*

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Geetika Guleria
Exploring Wellness

I like writing on products, technology and self-growth