From the title you can probably guess what this post is going to be all about. Sleep Deprivation. For those of you that get enough sleep and so have better memories than most, you will probably remember that I wrote an article recently about sleep with my tips to help you get off to and have better quality of sleep. This won’t rake over the same ground but will examine more closely the effects of sleep deprivation and some of its causes.
A year ago, I also stumbled upon a study that I found really interesting. So interesting that I spoke about it in a vlog which you can watch here. It detailed the sleep patterns of a Tanzanian tribe but don’t concern yourself with that just yet.
Undoubtedly, not getting enough sleep is pretty bad for you. But do you know how much sleep per night would consider you to be sleep deprived?
1 hour? 3 hours?
The actual figure is around 5 hours. Having less than five hours per night means you are sleep deprived.
How many people reading this are currently sleep deprived? I have spent periods of my life when 5 hours of sleep per night would have been considered a luxury!
This fact just shows that many of us need to re-evaluate what we consider to be a good night’s sleep.
There are several other key facts about how sleep deprivation effects the human body.
Can Cause Accidents
That’s right. Lack of sleep and the drowsiness it causes throughout the day has been linked with an increase in the likelihood of accidents both on the road and in the workplace.
Ages Your Skin
Not getting the proper amount of sleep can cause real issues for your skin as the body releases cortisone which is a stress hormone.
Also, the body doesn’t ever get around to producing Human Growth Hormone, which is essential for the repair and regrowth of skin cells. This causes skin to lose its elasticity, thins it out, causes wrinkles and gives it that aged look.
I don’t think that this fact is a secret to any of us but lack of sleep can cause depression. Those with insomnia, a condition that stops you from dropping off to sleep suffer with higher than average cases of depression.
5 times more likely.
It is thought that the two cause a vicious cycle that is hard to break from as depression can stop you from getting off to sleep and insomnia is a symptom of depression.
Your short-term memories are ordered and stored during the time when you are in REM sleep or deep sleep. If you aren’t getting enough time in that phase of sleep, your brain doesn’t get time to do this causing you to become forgetful.
Forgetfulness is something that I have come to terms with since my son was born. He owes me at least a year’s worth of sleep.
Causes Weight Gain
Studies have suggested that those that sleep less than 6 hours per night are more likely to be overweight.
It is thought that a lack of sleeps causes a drop in levels of a hormone called Leptin (tells you when you are full) and increases the levels of the hormone Ghrelin (tells you when you are hungry). This causes you to feel hungrier for a lot of the time.
Also, as you are tired during the day you are much more likely to reach for the sugar filled snacks for an instant pick-me-up.
Being tired also makes you less likely to exercise.
As with everything else in the modern world (or so it seems) a lack of sleep does have links with causing early death. A study into civil servant heath showed a link between those who had five hours or less of sleep per night and a doubling of their chances of an early death especially of cardio vascular disease.
However, don’t go running for the sleeping tablets yet. The headlines of this study may be a little misleading.
Are other causes of early death at play?
Higher rates of obesity, stress and other symptoms of a modern lifestyle?
What About the African Tribe?
Yes, what about the African tribe I spoke about in this video and in the introduction?
Well, I’m getting to it so hold your horses.
In my day job as a health coach I deal with several clients who have problems sleeping or getting off to sleep or staying asleep. For several of them this is caused by outside factors including stress or working shifts but for others it is caused by the aging process. We all know that the older we get, the less sleep we require, right?
Here We Go: The Tribe
Last year I came across this study which looked at the sleeping patterns of a hunter gatherer tribe in Tanzania. It’s important to note that this tribe had no access to electricity or artificial light and so they couldn’t be disturbed due to outside influences.
All members of the tribe were given an activity monitor on their wrists that measured not only activity but also light levels and sleeping patterns.
The test was done over 20 days.
During the study it was found that for only 18 minutes during the whole study were all members of the tribe asleep at the same time.
That’s staggering. Maybe the established medical conventions on sleep shouldn’t be so clear cut?
The study also showed that teenagers tended to stay until the early hours and sleep in later.
Middle-aged members slept within “normal” patterns. 10-11pm onwards.
Older members of the tribe slept earlier but woke up early. (pre-dawn)
Everyone reading this should be able to place themselves somewhere within these three groups.
What this shows us is that as we evolved as part of larger tribes we all had different parts to play in ensuring the safety of the group.
There is always someone awake to make sure the rest can sleep safely.
Those that were middle-aged and did the vast majority of the work get the most sleep at night, whilst the teenagers don’t sleep until the older members are ready to wake up. The perfect night watch system.
This would protect the tribe from any predators throughout the night and allow them to keep adding wood to the fire to stop it from going out.
From reading this study one major point came to mind.
Instead of stressing about our sleeping patterns when compared to what is considered as “normal”, maybe we shouldn’t worry about it.
Stressing will only keep you awake at night.
The sleeping pattern you already have is a necessary part of our evolution that we shouldn’t be trying to fight.
Humans have evolved to deal with the stresses of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and not one populated with mobile phones and Netflix. It will take thousands of years to adapt to this lifestyle.
If you look at it on an evolutionary scale we are nothing but a bunch of cave-people driving around in cars, drinking smoothies and following others on Instagram.
Be all you can be
If you have any comments on this and sleep, then please leave a comment below.