14 Things You Didn't Know About Sleep

Aug 29, 2022
things you didn't know about sleep

How’d you sleep last night? If you’re anything like most people, the answer is “not enough.”Unfortunately, insufficient sleep causes a multitude of detrimental effects.

You may think of sleep as a simple recharging process, like plugging your cell phone in, a necessary pause to allow its continued use. While sleep certainly does recharge us, it's a much more complex and much more active biological process than you realize, and the cost of short-changing your body and brain of sleep are quite alarming.

You’d be hard-pressed to find one other thing that impacts so many areas of your life - from your physical health to mental health, your ability to navigate the social world and your emotions. even ethical behaviors and work performance. Literally everything in your life is linked in some way to the quality and quantity of sleep of you get. 

Here are 14 things you may not know about sleep. 


1. Being tired makes you more emotional.

Picture a toddler who missed their nap. Now picture yourself as that toddler…The emotion center of your brain is powerful but primitive. It’s kept in check by your prefrontal cortex. Think of the cortex like the brake pedal that squashes impulses and emotional reactivity. Not getting enough sleep essentially cuts the brake line. Some studies have shown that our emotional response can be amplified by as much as 60% after just one night of sleep deprivation. Fortunately, a good night’s sleep turns the brakes back on!


2. Sleep affects your ability to navigate the social world.

The brain structures responsible for reading and decoding facial expressions get recalibrated when we sleep. Without this nightly fine tuning, our built in facial expression recognition systems lose their sensitivity, and our brains default to a fear-based approach. The implications are that we misread subtle micro-expressions, misinterpret others, mistaking negative intentions or reactions, then act accordingly. Imagine how that can affect you in different areas of life. 


3. Sleep is responsible for consolidating your memories and helping you learn.

Throughout the day, information gets stored in a part of our brain called the hippocampus, which is kind of like a USB thumb drive with limited storage capacity. When the hippocampus is full, any new information is either going to be automatically deleted, or it's going to write over older memories, so to speak. Sleeping is when information in the hippocampus gets transported to long-term storage in a different part of your brain. Sleeping before learning ensures you have enough storage space, and sleeping after learning essentially hits save on all of that new information. So contrary to what students think, pulling an all -nighter cram session really doesn't do you any favors.  


4. Sleep boosts creativity.

Creativity hinges on being able to link two seemingly unrelated things in novel or unexpected ways. This is exactly what our brains do during REM sleep when we’re busy dreaming. They forge links between concepts, information, memories, and experiences that aren’t obvious to our waking minds. These subconscious connections allow us to think more creatively during the day. 


5. Sleep promotes motor performance.

It's not just the cognitive abilities that benefit from sleep. Motor skills do, too. Any skill that involves movement (sport, music, art, whatever) is strengthened during sleep. Rather than practice makes perfect, it may be the case that a good nap does! 


6. Beauty rest is real.

Studies have shown that just one night of inadequate sleep can make you appear less attractive and more fatigued to others. Beyond vanity, sleep deprivation affects your DNA. Specifically, it messes with the telomeres at the end of your DNA strands, which are like the caps on the ends of shoelaces that keep them from fraying. Telomeres are involved in the aging process, and sleep deprivation can prematurely age you on a DNA level.


7. Sleep deprivation has a real dollar cost.

Lost productivity due to sleep deprivation costs an estimated 2% of a country’s GDP. That’s $411 BILLION in the US. Sleep deprivation at work matters even if you don't really care about a company's bottom line. That's because...


8. Sleep deprived coworkers and leaders are the worst.

Sleep deprivation can make you more likely to do shady things like loaf off your coworkers during group projects, take credit for work that isn't yours, blame others for your mistakes, or even engage in unethical behaviors like lying or falsifying records. For leaders, it impacts your ability to lead, which can make your employees less engaged. 


9. Sleep deprivation shortens your life.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” is a pretty familiar attitude…and with that attitude, death will, indeed, come sooner! There are a number of ways that inadequate sleep can result in premature death, ranging from accidents and deadly mistakes to sabotaging your health (like raising your risk for type 2 diabetes. Your body can enter a prediabetic state in as little as one week of 4 hours of sleep per night). Let's hit some highlights.


10. Not getting enough sleep will break your heart.

Getting less than 6 hours of sleep for just one night leads to a noticeable negative impact on your heart and blood vessels. Over time, that amount of sleep nearly doubles your risk of developing or dying from heart disease! The link between sleep and heart disease is so strong that hospitals show a big spike in the number of heart attacks the day after daylight savings time, which robs us of an hour of sleep.


11. Sleep deprivation can cause weight gain.

There are several ways that not getting enough sleep can make you gain weight, up to 10-15 pounds a year. First, inadequate sleep for as little as two days affects two key hormones: leptin and ghrelin. When we’re tired, leptin goes down, keeping us from feeling satisfied by food, and ghrelin goes up, stimulating our appetites and making us hungrier than usual. Second, remember that brake pedal that gets cut when we don’t sleep? That makes it hard to veto impulses, so we eat more when we don’t get enough sleep. Moreover, what we eat is different. We reach for sugary, carby junk food when we’re tired. And don’t think you’ll just workout more to offset sleep-related weight gain. Being underslept makes it harder to muster the energy to workout hard the next day. Besides, when our bodies don’t get enough sleep, they get stingy with fat, holding onto it and choosing, instead, to sacrifice lean muscle mass if there is any weight loss.


12. Without sleep, waste builds up in your brain, raising your risk for Alzheimer’s.

During the day, neurons produce waste by-products. Sleep is when the cleaning crew comes in, power washing our brains and making them squeaky clean. When we short-change sleep, neural waste doesn’t get removed. A build up of one of waste by-product in particular (amyloid protein) seems to be a cause of Alzheimer’s, a particularly devastating disease.


13. Sleep protects you from viruses and cancer.

Generally speaking, sleep deprivation tanks your immune system. For example, getting less than 5 hours of sleep a night almost triples the likelihood of getting a cold when exposed to a virus. And don't think you can sit back and rely on vaccines, either. Not getting adequate sleep can severely limit the effectiveness of vaccines. Moreover, skimping on sleep makes you more vulnerable to cancer. While you're in dreamland, your body's James Bond style killer T cells roam around finding and destroying cancer cells. Even one night of getting less sleep can significantly reduce the number of T cells at work, letting cancer cells sneak by. 


14.  Drowsy driving is more dangerous than drunk driving. 

Don’t take that as minimizing the dangers of driving while intoxicated. Instead, let it be a wake up call about how dangerous it is to drive while sleep deprived. Regularly getting less than 7 hours of sleep puts you at risk for what’s called microsleeps, which are momentary (as short as 1-2 seconds) lapses in concentration. During micosleeps, your brain is blind to input from the outside world, and you are completely non-responsive. You can drift into oncoming traffic or fail to brake for an animal or child darting into the road. A drunk driver’s responses will be delayed, sometimes resulting in catastrophe, but you will not respond AT ALL during a microsleep. Even more surprising? You’re most likely not even aware of microsleeps, making driving while drowsy particularly concerning.

Overcoming the effects of sleep deprivation isn’t a resiliency or strength thing. You can’t train yourself to get by with less sleep. It's taking a toll on you, and, here's the kicker, you may not even realize it. In fact, numerous studies have shown that people are blind to many of the negative impacts of being underslept. It’s like someone who is impaired by alcohol insisting they are fine to drive. So while there actually are some individuals who genuinely are ok with less sleep (their genetics are responsible), they are exceedingly rare, and you're most likely not one of them. Prioritize your health and wellbeing across the board and embrace the magic of a good night's sleep.


"Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day - Mother Nature's best effort yet at contra-death."
 - Matthew Walker


Written by Dr. Ashley Smith

Peak Mind Co-founder

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