Sleep helps organise and retain new memories, combining them with the rest of the data in your brain. On AIA Voices, psychotherapist Kate Yan explains, "When you sleep, your brain uses this restful time to clear away useless memories and retain key information we learn while awake."
A 2018 national survey in China says 60 per cent of its citizens born in the 1990s were not getting enough sleep. (Credit: Shutterstock)
In a video series, AIA Voices experts share how sleep improves memory, manages blood pressure and helps with weight loss. Unfortunately, you miss out on these health benefits with continuous sleep deprivation.
Philips' sleep survey of 13 countries reports one in four people across the Asia Pacific experience sleep challenges. Why are people sleeping less?
Work obligations, poor bedtime routines and mental health challenges like stress and anxiety contribute to inadequate sleep. Many people also delay sleep to binge-watch or play games. Psychologists called it revenge bedtime procrastination – a way to compensate for the lack of free time during the day.
Some people may also not know they have sleep disorders like sleep apnoea, where your breathing stops while asleep, making you feel exhausted the following day.
Effects of sleep deprivation
Understanding the effects of sleep deprivation is crucial for maintaining overall health. With quality sleep, you avoid the repercussions on your brain, body and mental health. Here are a few ways inadequate sleep affects your day-to-day functioning.
1. You pile on more stress
Insufficient sleep elevates stress levels. “A study found that stress hormone cortisol increases by 37 per cent after one night of lack of sleep. As a result, you will feel anxious, wired, unable to switch off,” says Arezzolo.
Overproduction of cortisol also manifests as dull skin and dark circles under your eyes. Cortisol also triggers increased oil production, clogging pores and resulting in breakouts.
2. You catch a cold easily
A study in Sleepfound that participants who slept six hours or less over seven days had four times the likelihood of developing a cold. Aside from short sleep duration, waking up frequently at night can also make you susceptible to respiratory infection.
Aside from short sleep duration, sleep disturbances were associated with a greater likelihood of a cold or infection, based on a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine
3. You overreact and become emotional
Studies show individuals who get adequate sleep each night exhibit fewer emotional outbursts, such as anger, irritability and frustration.
Sleep specialist Dr Michael J. Breus says sleep deprivation puts the amygdala, the part of your brain that controls emotional reactions, in overdrive. You become irate or nervous over things or situations that normally do not faze you, according to a study in Healthcare.
"Interestingly, it's not only our negative emotions, like anger and fear, that get a heightened response," Dr Breus writes in Psychology Today. "When sleep-deprived, we're more reactive across the whole spectrum of emotions, positive and negative."
4. Your memory becomes faulty
#OneMoreHour of sleep improves memory by 40 per cent. (Credit: Shutterstock)
5. You make poor judgment calls
Your brain works harder to process information when you're sleep deprived, leading to lapses in attention and slow response time. These have serious ramifications when you're in a situation like driving that requires quick thinking.
Driving is not the only activity impacted by too little sleep. Any task or profession that requires alertness and sound judgement may be affected by sleep deprivation.
The more profound effect of insufficient sleep is impaired judgment. It affects the prefrontal cortex, the area in front of the brain responsible for logical reasoning and thoughts. This may explain why poor sleep harms intellectual and creative performance and productivity at work.
6. You cannot maximise the benefits of your exercise
While exercise builds muscles, sleep completes the process of muscle repair and growth by releasing the human growth hormone (GH). "70 per cent of human growth hormone, the key catalyst for cellular repair and recovery, is produced in slow-wave sleep (SWS) or deep sleep," Arezzolo explains.
GH helps increase muscle mass and strengthens bones. However, without adequate sleep, you might lose the muscle gained in your workouts. You will also feel fatigued the next day, affecting your workout performance.
7. You crave sweets
Poor sleep increases your craving for fatty, starchy and sugary foods. And the culprit may be the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which, Science journal says, is responsible for controlling immune response, appetite, digestion and metabolism.
A study in eLife Neuroscience saw elevated levels of the ECS molecule 2-oleoylglycerol among test subjects who had a four-hour night's sleep. The sleep-deprived group consumed the same average amount of calories as the well-rested group from a buffet-like setup. The difference was they chose food packed with more energy per gram.
Based on brain scans, 2-oleoylglycerol may affect the brain's odour-processing region, strongly registering smells of food like caramel, pot roast and cinnamon roll.
Insufficient sleep's long-term impact
An analysis in the Journals of Gerontology suggests people who slept seven hours can expect to live 13.5 years without chronic diseases between ages 50 and 75. (Credit:Shutterstock)
One night of undersleeping already causes stress and weakens the immune system. Meanwhile, consistent eight hours of sleep daily can lower your risk of:
- chronic diseases (diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease)
- neurotoxin build-up (This contributes to "brain fog, memory loss and long term, even, Alzheimer's disease," Arezzolo points out.)
- anxiety, social withdrawal and depression
Sleeping soundly through the night is one of the best tools in your preventive care arsenal. It helps you manage financial stress due to the healthcare costs of poor physical and mental health.
If sleep deprivation prevents you from getting much-needed rest, you may need expert advice. Try AIA Vitality, a wellness programme with a network of experts who can guide you on good sleep habits. They can counsel you on medical check-ups and lifestyle choices to sleep better. Most importantly, it can help you understand what prevents you from getting #OneMoreHour of sleep.
The effect of one night of sleep deprivation on your overall wellbeing is significant. In this episode of AIA Voices, sleep and mental health experts Olivia Arezzolo, Kate Yan and Asher Low explain what happens when we get less than adequate sleep.
AIA Voices is a community of influential and educational voices from around Asia to talk about life, health and wellness. A platform to educate, motivate and inspire people to make positive behavioural changes on their health and wellness journey. Providing an opportunity for communities across Asia to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other. Designed to drive AIA One Billion, our ambition to engage a billion people to live Healthier, Longer, Better Lives by 2030.
Healthcare. 2019. The Global Problem of Insufficient Sleep and Its Serious Public Health [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
China Daily. 2018. Beijing has the most young early birds [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Philips Global Sleep Survey. 2021. Seeking solutions: how COVID-19 changed sleep around the world [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Cureus, 2018. The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection? [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Psychology Today. 2018. 4 Ways That Sleep Deprivation Can Harm Your Emotional Health. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Journal of Transportation Safety & Security. 2021. Freeway crashes involving drowsy driving: Crash characteristics and severity in South Korea. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Harvard Medical School. 2021. Why Sleep Matters: Consequences of Sleep Deficiency. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Sleep and Biological Rhythms. 2014. Sleepiness and Safety: Where Biology Needs Technology. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
College of William & Mary. Sleep and Recovery. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Sleep Research Society. 2021. Sleep on it - why sleep is important for optimizing learning and memory. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
eLife Neuroscience. 2019. Olfactory connectivity mediates sleep-dependent food choices in humans. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Science. 2019. Why skimping on sleep makes your brain crave sweets. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
Sleep. 2015. Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2016. Association of Insufficient Sleep With Respiratory Infection Among Adults in the United States. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
The Journals of Gerontology. 2019. Sleep Duration and Sleep Disturbances as Predictors of Healthy and Chronic Disease–Free Life Expectancy Between Ages 50 and 75: A Pooled Analysis of Three Cohorts. [online] [Accessed on 15 December 2022]
This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.