Source: John Anderer
LONDON — Everyone knows sleep is important, but that doesn’t stop millions from staying up late and neglecting their beauty rest each night. There’s no shortage of research showing how lack of ample sleep can affect one’s mental health, but experts also warn that it also raises the risk of heart disease, may lead to weight gain, and can even change the way our DNA behaves.
The warning comes with a recent survey of 2,000 British adults that shows only 17% regularly enjoy the recommended eight hours of sleep each night. While the rest of us might expect to be a bit tired after a sleepless night, the extreme impact an inadequate sleep schedule can have on the human body may surprise you. Paul Gringras, professor of sleep medicine at Evelina London, says that consistent lack of sleep can be very dangerous.
“Those people who sleep under six hours have a higher risk of coronary heart disease, their blood pressure is higher and their cholesterol is worse,” Gringras comments in a media release. “Our lack of sleep as a nation has been compared to ‘the canary in the coalmine’, in that poor sleep is linked to so many other serious health issues.”
The survey, funded by sleep tech company Simba, also found that 44% of respondents are only sleeping for a maximum of six hours per night — two hours less than the often recommended eight hours.
According to Gringras, individuals who consistently don’t get enough quality sleep are 60% more at risk of having a heart attack, high blood pressure, or a stroke. Additionally, the body is believed to produce more inflammatory proteins called cytokines after a poor night’s sleep. These proteins can have a detrimental effect on the immune system.
Beyond these concerns, poor sleep habits can even change one’s DNA.
“Every cell in our body contains the same DNA, our genetic code. And people used to think that was that – your genes were who you are – and nothing could affect it,” Gringas explains. “But, our DNA, and how our body knows what to do with it, is in fact susceptible to changes from outside factors – what we eat, whether we smoke, how stressed we are, and how we sleep.
Gringas says that while sleep, or lack thereof, doesn’t actually change our DNA, it can impact the signals that control how our genes operate on a day-to-day basis.
“Just one night’s bad sleep changes epigenetic signals to our DNA that cause weight gain and loss of muscle mass, and can affect the way that memories are laid down in the hippocampus – part of our brains,” Gringas clarifies.
Sleep is also significantly linked to everyday athletic performance as well as decision-making. After a sleepless night, people are more likely to make reckless decisions and act impulsively. Additionally, a lack of sleep can dull a person’s reaction time and accuracy.
If you’re looking for a way to improve your sleep patterns, Gringas recommends exercising on a daily basis; 85% of the survey’s respondents reported improvements in their sleeping patterns after beginning an exercise routine.