Can’t sleep? Here’s why you should – Alex Gray

Sleep is a fundamental part of the functionality of humans, but with the ever-increasing use of electronic devices, workload, and night shifts; the average Brit gets a mere 5.8 out of the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night. But what affect does this have on your brain and body? A bad night’s sleep is something I am sure many of you have suffered from first-hand, but it’s in fact the psychological and biological impact that may surprise you.

The study of sleep is something that tracks all through time, dating as far as 1180, with philosopher-physician Moses Maimonides, establishing the most efficient period of sleep as one-third of a day, but with the progression of time and technology experiments became stranger and darker, most notably the “enhanced interrogation techniques”, used by the CIA in Bagram, Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib which drove detainees to point of hallucination and severe psychological deterioration. This incident violated the UN Convention against torture, displaying the more extreme end of sleep deprivation, but what is the science behind a bad night’s sleep?

Studies show sleep deprivation sparks a spike of activity in the emotional rapid response centre of the brain, which is called the amygdala. This part of the brain controls our immediate emotional reactions. When lacking sleep, the amygdala will go into overdrive, resulting in a much more intense reaction to situations. Interestingly, it’s not only our negative emotions, like anger and fear, that get a heightened response. Research shows that when sleep deprived, we are more reactive across the whole spectrum of our emotions, positive and negative.

Whilst the amygdala is highly reactive, a lack of sleep also negatively effects the link between the amygdala and another part of your brain involved in emotional regulation known as the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain handles a lot of complex tasks, and one of them is to put the brakes on impulsiveness. More simply, the prefrontal cortex acts as the more responsible part of your brain in charge of decisions.

When you do not get enough sleep, this part of your brain cannot do its job as well, and you become more impulsive and less thoughtful in your emotional responses. Not only does it polarise your emotion and impede decision making, a bad night’s sleep can have a catastrophic affect your mental health. Depression is an issue of which 300 million people worldwide suffer from, 75% of which suffer from insomnia or other sleep related problems, as growing evidence highlights a bidirectional relationship in which sleep problems and depressive symptoms are mutually reinforcing. Further issues with a bad night’s sleep occur in weight, as a lack of sleep can cause a systematic imbalance within your metabolism, which can exacerbate weight gain.

Sleep undoubtedly is something we all need, and varies with age, but you should really aim for at least 7 hours. with this as a minimum you can: boost your immune system, stay at a healthy weight, lower your risk for serious health problems; like diabetes and heart disease whilst Reducing stress and improving your mood. So, with this in mind and the chance you might be reading this in the evening; get off your phone, iPad or laptop and go get some sleep, you now know why you should.

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