Over the last 6 months, I and my colleague Margaret Salmon MD have been running something of a campaign throughout offices and workplaces, extolling the virtues of getting enough sleep. Margaret has a background in neurology and she has seen first hand just what a lack of sleep can do. This is why Margaret contacted me, becasue she knows that I have been working on healthcare in the workplace for a number of years and when she came to me with this, I knew that it was something that was very relevant for so many workers.
Margaret spent around a week with me before we embarked on this, talking about the importance of sleep and showing me evidence of what happens to people when they don’t get enough sleep on a consistent basis, and the evidence is pretty shocking, to be honest. What we have found from our time in workplaces is that there is a huge amount of people who have absolutely no idea the damage that they are doing to themselves when they don’t sleep, which is why I want to talk a little about it today.
The most telling consequence of a bad night’s sleep is reduced productivity, which is not good for employees or employers. The reason for this is that our brains have not had the rest which they require, they have not had the chance to process and to repair cells, a vital function which the brain performs during REM sleep. When this hasn’t happened the brain ends up running at perhaps 50% which means that simple tasks and requests are met with difficulty. This is why people struggle to get things done when they haven’t slept very well, and why a 15-minute job may take up to an hour.
For the same reasons as listed above, your focus is going to be completely out of whack becasue you haven’t had the proper chance to give your brain the rest which it needs. This is why concentrating on something for a long time can be very challenging and why many people are unable to properly take on information or learn new things. The idea of it being romantic to be running on 3 hours of sleep is folly, there is no person on Earth who is better after less sleep, the science just proves it all wrong, regardless of how people feel. This is also why we say that those who are studying for an exam are wrong to pull all-night cramming sessions because the brain is slowing down all the time and it is less able to absorb information.
Many people get confused about stress, the most important point to remember is that there will always be stress in our lives, at home, and at work, those who are hyper stressed normally feel it becasue their mechanisms which help them to deal with stress are not working. We are naturally able to manage stress using a chemical called cortisone which exists in the brain when we don’t get enough stress, however, our cortisone production gets confused and you could find that it either overproduces or underproduces the chemical, either way, it has a huge effect on our stress levels. This is why you get irritable when you haven’t slept enough and why it takes far less to get you irked than it normally would. The better that you sleep, the more you are going to be able to deal with any stress that exists in your life.
Dry skin and hair, bags under the eyes, cracked nails, these are all clear consequences of not getting enough sleep over a prolonged period of time and it will have a negative impact on your physical appearance. This comes down to your body not being able to repair cells and encourage blood flow around the body, allowing the organs to reset and replenish. The effects are worse inside of course, but on the exterior is where it will really show.
The final point to mention on sleep is that those who consistently go without sleep over a long period of time are some of the most at-risk people when it comes to later-life diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Studies have indicated that the cell damage which is caused that leads to issues like dementia has come about owing to a lack of sleep and relaxation, which is an essential function for the body.
If you currently don’t get enough sleep then it is something which you should address as soon as you can, in order to prevent these consequences from happening. A lack of sleep is not heroic or impressive, it is very dangerous and can cause a wide variety of problems.