Why it is worth to sleep

śpiąca kobieta
śpiąca kobieta

Published: 26-03-2016

Last modified: 02-03-2021

For those who believe that it is a waste of life to sleep, because “they will sleep after death” – a new article. About why it is better though to have enough sleep during life.

Lack of sleep negatively affects mood, motivation, social and emotional skills, communication skills, creativity, memory, decision-making ability, immune system, cardiovascular system and even … reduces brain!

Under the influence of sleep deprivation we are less resistant psychologically, more prone to irritability and sadness, and – as under the influence of alcohol – we lose social inhibition. The study, which was attended by healthy 80-year-olds and 20-year-olds showed that in some ways the lack of sleep has a greater impact on young people than the elderly. 20-year-olds after a sleepless night had greater disturbances of mood, as well as a greater decrease in cognitive skills.

Lack of sleep causes drop of our ability to perform tasks requiring long-term focus and effort. Easy or absorbing tasks that require a short-term focus tired people often are able to perform. Doctors with deficient sleep often very well cope with short, stimulating crises, but during routine repetitive tasks requiring long-term focus problems arise.

Very large lack of sleep can cause even persecutory delusions and light paranoia. Participants in deficiency of sleep research sometimes become convinced that scientists are plotting against them. It is also described an example of a man who, after 4 nights of very restless sleep fell into psychosis and believed to be the Messiah.

The effect of sleep deprivation is also decrease of motivation. In a study in which two groups of volunteers were working continuously for 20 hours, after this time all persons were working worse. The decrease in efficiency, however, was higher in the group that was tasked to work together rather than in a group, in which participants worked alone. Working in a group gives you the opportunity to throw off working for someone else, so as a result of the decrease of motivation each used this opportunity.

In another study persons in their 20s after 36 hours without sleep were doing a number of neurological and psychological tests as healthy 60-year-olds. Aging and lack of sleep cause similar effects maybe because both aging and lack of sleep impairs the functioning of the prefrontal cortex.

Another effect of lack of sleep is decrease of pain threshold. Often it causes a vicious circle, because sleep problems often result from pain.

And now the best argument indicating that it is not true that you waste your life in sleep. The study of longevity among Japanese has identified three factors that are independently associated with reduced risk of death: Walking at least one hour a day, a sense that life has meaning … and sleeping at least 7 hours a day. So giving up sleep in favor of life, you shorten this life.

Creative thinking and making complex decisions

Even one sleepless night weakens the ability of flexible and creative thinking. Lack of sleep affects all aspects of creative thinking: originality, flexibility, generating unusual ideas, the ability to change strategies and verbal fluency (the ability to quickly and freely use of the words). People with sleep deficits tend to remain with the current activity, regardless of whether it is appropriate to the situation. When we are tired, poorly we deal with making complex decisions that require modifying plans in the face of unexpected news, effective communication and ignoring irrelevant information. There is weakened also lateral thinking, that is, the ability to look at the problem from different points of view. Studies have shown that sleepy doctors are worse in solving complex problems, such as diagnosing atypical symptoms that require an innovative approach.

In one study, volunteers played a game in a realistic marketing, which required complex decision-making and continuous updating of these decisions in the light of new information. After 36 hours without sleep they were still able to absorb written information, but their ability to make decisions based on this information worsened considerably. The longer they were without sleep, the worse they coped with recognizing when new circumstances require a change in tactics. Their thinking stiffened and they stubbornly persisted with inadequate solution. There were also noticeable changes in the speech: they were to a greater extent relying on typical responses and tended to fixate on a certain category of words. Sleepy people read in a monotone way, it is difficult for them to find the right words, their speech is less spontaneous and expressive and are not willing to voluntarily provide information that could be useful interlocutor. They worse express their thoughts, feelings, decisions and actions.

In adolescents from 10 to 14 years, even a one-time reduction of up to 5 hours of sleep resulted in the study in deterioration of verbal creativity, verbal fluidity and ability to learn abstract concepts. Less complex mental functions, for example rote learning, are not impaired.

Sleep deprivation and driving a car

Lack of sleep, like alcohol worsens the ability to perform tasks requiring making judgements, focus, rapid response and coordination, ie, such as driving a car. Lack of sleep also causes the deterioration of eyesight: blurs the image and leads to errors in evaluation of distance. Research with driving simulator showed that drivers who have not slept for 21 hours achieved the same low scores as drivers with blood alcohol of 0.8 per mille. Not only sleepless night, but a chronic lack of sleep (sleep for a week 2 hours shorter than usual) causes such an effect.

Not only that lack of sleep reduces our capacity to act, it is also, like alcohol reduces the ability to see that our actions are impaired. Tired people lose the ability to foresee the consequences of their behavior, increase the willingness to take risks and are characterized by their unrealistic belief in their skills. In one experiment, two groups of subjects performed tests of cognitive skills. One group had not slept for 24 hours, and people from the other group slept normally the night. After the test, each one was asked to assess how well he/she have done tasks. People from the “sleepy” group have done tasks worse than the group “non-sleepy” but they assessed themselves better.

People with deficient sleep well perform some short-term tasks. It is worse, when they are forced to work for a longer period of time. In studies sleep deprived volunteers achieved good results in tests of reaction time, when they had to react only a few times per minute. But when they had to do a lot of quick tasks scattered at irregular intervals within 15 minutes they did much worse. Sometimes they reacted quickly, and sometimes very slowly or not at all. The greater the lack of sleep, the more differentiated were their reactions. Many studies show that the effectiveness of tired people is becoming more variable and inconsistent. Accuracy and speed of response may be subject to significant fluctuations within a few minutes. Such fluctuations are probably the result of mikrosleep – tired person can fall asleep for a few seconds and not even notice it.

Sleep deprivation and immune system

Studies in mice have shown that if they are deprived of sleep for at least 7 hours, the vaccine against influenza viruses, does not bring any effect. In human also sleep deprivation affects the immune system. Just one restless night can reduce the activity of natural killer cells attacking infected cells and some types of cancer cells. Also decreases the number of other cells and the protein interleukin-2, also performing a very important function in the immune responses. After overcoming a shortage of sleep, number and activity of immune cells back to normal.

Sleepless night also causes that following evening levels of cortisol – a stress hormone, having a negative impact on the immune system, increases by 45%.

Other effects of sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation has an effect on physical fitness. This does not diminish strength or muscular endurance, but slows the rate at which the cardiovascular system regains balance after intense exercise. After 24 hours without sleep breathing rate and oxygen uptake after exercise remain longer at a high level. It was also shown that older people with sleep problems are statistically more likely to have a heart attack.

After 3 days without sleep extremely increase levels of important liver enzymes, changes occur in adipose tissue and increases circulating levels of phosphorus in the blood.

Sleeping four hours 6 nights in a row causes symptoms typical of the early stage of diabetes. Volunteers, who underwent the tests needed 40% more time to regulate blood sugar levels after eating foods rich in carbohydrates, and the ability to produce insulin decreased by almost 1/3. All these symptoms disappeared after 12 hours of sleep.

Lack of sleep also weakens ability of skin to maintain normal protective functions and creating a barrier to dirt and germs. This can exacerbate acne problems.

It turns out that lack of sleep can also destroy nerve tissue. Scientists examined two groups of flight attendants who were handling the long flight of at least 5 years. In one group stewardesses have a two-week intervals between the long flights and in the second group up to several days. The second group had a significantly weaker performance in tests of learning and memory (longer reaction times and more errors) and shown that the right temporal lobe is smaller than in the second group. Women with the greatest reduction in nerve tissue also had the highest levels of cortisol.

Lack of sleep can even cause hair loss. Learn more: www.hairlossrevolution.com/lack-of-sleep/

Sleep deprivation in children and ADHD

In contrast to adults, who due to fatigue are less active, children try to fight with sleep deprivation with an even higher activity. Tired child is irritable, restless, inattentive, but it does not have to look tired.

Some of the children diagnosed with behaviour disorder may actually suffer from sleep problems. Children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) show higher than healthy children impulsiveness, hyperactivity or inattentive behavior (or all together). Many of them suffer from problems such as insomnia or premature waking up and excessive daytime sleepiness. Their sleep patterns are usually less stable than in healthy children. The same applies to children with other similar attention disorders or Asperger syndrome (a mild form of autism). A survey conducted in China resulted that 14% of primary school children suffer from sleep deprivation. In these children it was observed worse relationships with their parents and peers, weaker social skills and worse academic performance. More often they were also hyperactive.

Research also show that 1/3 of children with ADHD regularly snores, while among healthy children only 1/10. Snoring often results from associated with sleep disordered breathing, e.g.,. sleep apnea, which interferes with sleep and cause daytime sleepiness. It is estimated that 1/4 of children diagnosed with ADHD could be cured, focusing on the treatment of sleep-related breathing disorders.


Paul Martin „Counting Sheep: The Science and Pleasures of Sleep and Dreams”

Author: Maja Kochanowska

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