Sleep: Are you getting enough of it?


Two-thirds of adults in developed nations fail to obtain the nightly eight hours of sleep recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Needless to say, in this modern world we live in, with all its demands and stimulants we are a collective of overtired and sleepless individuals. Most of us do not get as much sleep as we should, and this can have numerous profound negative effects on our mental and physical state.

Sleep is a key component in the overall health of any individual and is vital for recovery and performance. It can affect our mood, appetite, decision making, reactions and how quickly we reach exhaustion during exercise.

Sleep or lack thereof, can affect our performance when exercising in numerous ways. A bad night’s sleep can have an impact on our energy levels and resistance to fatigue, thus affecting our ability to perform at our best during exercise. A study by Matthew Walker, (Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science.) showed that the time taken to reach physical exhaustion by athletes who obtain anything less than eight hours of sleep, and especially less than six hours, drops by 10-30%.  

During sleep, our body releases growth hormone which helps to grow and repair muscle, it is the time when our body recovers. 

Sleep also has a powerful effect on our immune system and our ability to fight off the flu or a cold (it is why our instinct is to sleep when ill). When our sleep is reduced, even for a single night our resilience is greatly reduced. Walker has showed that short sleep can reduce the effectiveness of our cancer-fighting immune cells and significantly raise the risk of developing Alzheimer - when we get too little sleep across an adult life span.

Sleep also affects our mood, brain scans carried out by Walker revealed a 60% increase in the reactivity of the amygdala in those who were sleep deprived. The amygdala, is key to the control of anger and rage. In children, sleeplessness has been linked to aggression and bullying and in adolescents, to suicidal thoughts.

Insufficient sleep is also associated with a relapse in addiction disorders. If you add to this, our decreased ability to make decisions, process information, deal with stress and impaired reaction times, it’s no surprise that according to Walker, after being awake for 19 hours, we are as cognitively impaired as someone who is drunk.  

So how does this affect our physical performance?

Although it is well established that sleep loss has negative effects on mental performance, its effects on physical performance are more ambiguous. Sleep deprivation of 30 to 72 hours does not directly affect cardiovascular and respiratory responses to exercise, or our aerobic and anaerobic capabilities. Muscle strength is also not affected. However, time to exhaustion is, meaning despite physiologically being able to perform as normal, we will be unable to due to our decreased level of resistance to fatigue. If we now remember that sleep deprivation also decreases our motor skills and coordination, it becomes clear why a good night’s sleep is crucial for us to be able to perform at our best during exercise.

Sleep deprivation can also increase our appetite and eventually lead to obesity or weight gain over time. This is because when we are sleep deprived our body's levels of leptin are reduced. Leptin is a hormone responsible for making us feel full. On top of this, lack of sleep increases our levels of ghrelin, a hormone which increases our appetite, making us want to eat more.

Why are we sleep deprived?

Why are we so sleep deprived and when did this phenomenon happen? In 1942, less than 8% of the population was surviving on six hours of sleep or less a night. In, 2017, almost one in two people are! This an astonishing and frightening increase.

Walker tells us, that that the first cause is that we “electrified the night”. “Light is a profound degrader of our sleep. Second, there is the issue of work: not only the porous borders between when you start and finish, but longer commute times, too. No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead. And anxiety plays a part. We’re a lonelier, more depressed society. Alcohol and caffeine are more widely available. All these are the enemies of sleep.”

So What Can we do?

We must remove the negative connotations and break the stigma that comes with sleeping a lot or sleeping in.

Walker believes, that in the developed world sleep is strongly associated with weakness and even shame. “We have stigmatised sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting. It’s a badge of honour. When I give lectures, people will wait behind until there is no one around and then tell me quietly: ‘I seem to be one of those people who need eight or nine hours’ sleep.’ It’s embarrassing to say it in public. They would rather wait 45 minutes for the confessional. They’re convinced that they’re abnormal, and why wouldn’t they be? We chastise people for sleeping what are, after all, only sufficient amounts. We think of them as slothful. No one would look at an infant baby asleep and say, ‘What a lazy baby!’ We know sleeping is non-negotiable for a baby. But that notion is quickly abandoned [as we grow up]. Humans are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent reason.

Any proclamations to the fewest hours of sleep someone is getting each night is purely to their own detriment. The number of people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without any impairment is zero.

To combat this, we need to generate positive habits. Stick to a sleep schedule and listen to our bodies. Whether you’re a morning person, who prefers to wake early and sleep early (roughly 40% of the population) or a night person, who prefers to go to bed late and wake late (roughly 30% of the population), or somewhere in the middle (the remaining 30%); it is important to try and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

More tips for a good night’s sleep:

  • Remove all tech from the bedroom, not TV’s or any devices which emit LED (known to be detrimental to sleep).
  • Read a book before bed.
  • Make the bedroom as dark as possible.
  • Get a comfortable pillow and mattress.
  • Make sure the temperature is not too warm.
  • Write down anything on your mind, any worries or stresses before attempting to sleep.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Keep caffeine to the morning and midday.
  • Exercise.

So how do we sleep?

Each night we go to bed, we go through different stages of sleep, which make up a sleep cycle.

What Is a Sleep Cycle?

A sleep cycle is the period of time it takes for us to progress through the stages of sleep.

What Are the Stages of Sleep?

N1 (formerly "stage 1")

  • Between awake and falling asleep
  • Light sleep

N2 (formerly "stage 2")

  • Start of sleep
  • Disengage from surroundings
  • Breathing and heart rate become regular
  • Body temperature drops

N3 (formerly "stages 3 and 4")

  • Deepest and most restorative part of the sleep cycle
  • Blood pressure drops
  • Breathing slows further
  • Muscles are completely relaxed
  • Blood supply to muscles increases
  • Tissue growth and repair occurs
  • Energy is restored
  • Hormones are released, such as: Growth hormone, essential for growth and development, including muscle development

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) (25% of night): First occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night

  • Provides energy to the brain and body
  • Supports daytime performance
  • Brain is active - this is when we dream
  • Eyes move back and forth
  • Body becomes immobile and relaxed

When Does REM Sleep Occur?

Slow wave sleep comes mostly in the first half of the night, REM in the second half.

REM sleep typically begins about 90 minutes after you first fall asleep, with the first REM cycle lasting about 10 minutes. Each successive REM cycle last longer, with the final REM stage lasting up to 1 hour. Most people experience three to five intervals of REM sleep each night.

Waking may occur after REM.  If the waking period is long enough, we may remember it the next morning but often short awakenings disappear with amnesia.

    Final Thoughts

    Sleep is paramount to our mental and physical health. It’s key to athletic performance and a healthy lifestyle, yet most of us neglect it, perhaps without truly realising the consequences.

    The advantages of getting enough sleep clearly and unquestionably outweigh the negative effects of sleep deprivation, so why do we not take this more seriously? We must take meaningful strides towards incorporating sleep, the same way we incorporate exercise, diet and our social lives. We need to dedicate time and resources to making sure we do it correctly to reap the benefits.

    With not just our athletic performance at stake but our health and general wellbeing, it's time we all got our priorities straight.

    Plus, who doesn’t like sleeping? So what better reason do we need to start doing more of it?


    Do you get enough sleep each night? What does your nightly routine look like?

    We’d love to hear from you!

    The Springhealth Team


    The infographic below was provided by Casper, as part of their Sleep Like A Champion campaign.

    Springhealth is not being compensated to include Caspers infographic.

    This post was written by and for Springhealth.