Some people brag about burning the candle at both ends, like getting just a few hours of sleep is some kind of a badge of honor. But research and experts tell us that adults need to get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, on average. Having an occasional night of bad sleep is no big deal, but when it happens consistently, there are some negative consequences beyond being groggy or grouchy.
If you’re not getting more than six hours of sleep a night, experts say these things may happen:
- Increased anxiety - It’s a vicious cycle, where a lack of sleep causes anxiety and anxiety can cause a lack of sleep. Sleep expert and health psychologist Dr. Sue Peacock explains that anxiety about sleep can lead to sleep disturbances and insomnia, “which then creates a feedback loop that can make both conditions worse.”
- Weakened immune system - While you sleep, your immune system creates “protective, infection-fighting substances” that help protect you from bacteria and viruses,” Dr. Peacock says. So if you’re not getting enough quality sleep, you’re not making as many of those protectors, which increases our risk of illness and infection and could make it take longer to recover from being sick.
- Loss of productivity - After a night of tossing and turning, you’ve probably noticed that you’re just not as productive the next day. Dr Katharina Lederle, a sleep and body clock specialist, points out a study that found employees who average five hours of sleep a night lost 2.22 days of work a year, compared to the 1.48 hours lost by those who got eight hours of sleep. She explains, “A lack of sleep negatively impacts all the things we need to do our jobs well: cognitive performance, decision-making, memory and attention span.”
- Weight gain - If you’ve ever felt ravenous after a bad night’s sleep, there’s a biological reason for that. Hormones like cortisol, leptin and ghrelin - which are important in the control of weight - are regulated while we sleep. But if we don’t sleep enough, those hormone levels decrease. Dr. Peacock explains, “Long term lack of sleep increases appetite, overeating and weight gain.
- Other health issues - Research shows consistently getting poor sleep raises the risk of cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, stroke and heart attack, as well as diabetes and other chronic conditions.