Not Sleeping Enough Can Wreck Your Body More Than You Think

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Not Sleeping Enough Can Wreck Your Body More Than You Think

It's widely known that not getting enough Zzzs at night will leave you feeling groggy and unable to focus the next day.

Now a sleep expert has laid bare just how many problems not getting enough sleep could cause you, including increased risk of cancer, dementia, heart attacks and even infertility. No energy drink is going to solve that.

Speaking in a video filmed for Business Insider, Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, outlined the sheer amount of damage a lack of sleep can do.

Walker even went so far to say that being awake is 'essentially low-level brain damage' that we really need eight hours a night to repair.


"We certainly know that a lack of sleep will actually prevent your brain from being able to initially make new memories," Walker said.

"It's almost as though without sleep the memory inbox of the brain shuts down and you can't commit new experiences to memory.


"So those new incoming informational emails are just bounced, and you end up feeling as though you're amnesiac. You can't essentially make and create those new memories."

Walker explained that not sleeping enough will lead to the increased development of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid in the brain, often associated with Alzheimer's disease.

During deep sleep, a 'sewage system' in our brains washes this protein away - which is why it's so important to make sure you have a long kip.


"If you're not getting enough sleep each and every night, more of that Alzheimer's-related protein will build up," Walker said.

"The more protein that builds up, the greater your risk of going on to develop dementia in later life."

Sleep deprivation has wider effects on the body, too, including on your reproductive system.

According to Walker, men who sleep five to six hours a night have a testosterone level of men 10 years older - so if you're the type that likes to burn the candle at both ends, don't be surprised if your candle doesn't work.


Low levels of sleep also drastically reduce 'natural killer cells', cancer-fighting immune cells floating around your body.

David Davis asleep
David Davis asleep

Credit: PA

"That's the reason that we know that short sleep duration predicts your risk for developing numerous forms of cancer," Walker said.


"That list currently includes cancer of the bowel, cancer of the prostate, as well as cancer of the breast."

The link between a lack of sleep and cancer is now so strong the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies night shifts - of any type - as likely to cause cancer. So don't spend too long in that security or bar job.

People who sleep for six hours or less also have a 200% higher risk of dying from a heart attack or a stroke due to high blood pressure.

Even losing one hour of sleep can be fatal - the day we move the clocks forward in spring sees heart attack rates jump up by almost a quarter.

Walker recommends that everyone should sleep around eight hours a day to avoid wrecking their brain or the rest of their body.

"Once you get past 16 hours of being awake, that's when we start to see mental deterioration and physiological deterioration in the body," he concluded.

"We know that after you've been awake for 19 or 20 hours, your mental capacity is so impaired that you would be as deficient as someone who was legally drunk behind the wheel of a car.

"We need about eight hours of sleep to repair the damage of wakefulness. Wakefulness essentially is low-level brain damage."

So if you're reading this late at night, it might be best to turn off your phone or laptop and go to sleep instead.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Entertainment, Interesting, Sleep, Dementia, Cancer

Chris Ogden
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