The knock on effects of not getting enough sleep

There are few adults who have never complained that they just didn’t get enough sleep, usually soon after they snapped at a spouse or child for no good reason, or forgot something that needed to be done until it was too late to do it. Lack of sleep accounts for all sorts of mistakes, bad moods, temporary memory loss etc., but many of us are not aware of how much can be gained just by getting enough sleep.

Recent research has presented several interesting possibilities and avenues for future exploration. One is the discovery of the brain’s glymphatic system, which is likened to waste disposal pipes that, in this case, carry neurotoxins away from the brain and ‘free up space’ for learning and memory. Last week researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in the US published the findings of a study that makes sleep seem even more crucial to our health and well-being than previously imagined.

It appears that this toxic clean-up only happens when we’re asleep, and when we don’t sleep enough, the build-up of ‘waste material’ in the brain contributes to learning disorders and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, plus a plethora of other negative effects. Studies by other researchers over the years have established the connection between ‘good’ sleep and memory and learning abilities, but now it looks like sleep may also be one of the body’s protective and restorative mechanisms.

The UK’s Mental Health Foundation has offered a list of confirmed benefits to be derived from a good night’s sleep, and number one is: it makes you happier. Added bonuses include better results from dieting (more weight loss), a strengthened immune system, improved heart health, better personal relationships, more energy and better performance at work and/or school.

All of these are excellent reasons to make sleeping one of your priorities, just like a healthy diet and consistent exercise. There is such a thing as sleeping too much, and there are problems associated with that also, but the current wisdom is that sleeping soundly and regularly for seven or eight hours each night is not just a suggestion but one of the requirements for both mental and physical health.