Sleep has always been classified as a basic need, much like food and water. However, with how fast-paced and demanding everyday life has become for almost everybody – no matter what age – sleep has become more of a luxury.
Common knowledge as well as several health organizations have always recommended at least 7-9 hours of sleep for adults, but recent studies claim there isn’t really a “magic number” when it comes to hours of sleep and that sleep needs vary from one person to another. One reason is that our bodies are simply wired differently, that while you may be satisfied with 7 hours of sleep, others may need 9 in order to not feel like roadkill for the rest of the day.
Another is the existence of your basal sleep need (the amount of sleep our bodies need on a regular basis for optimal performance) and sleep debt (the accumulated sleep that is lost to poor sleep habits, sickness, awakenings due to environmental factors or other causes. Sure, 7-9 hours of sleep is a good amount of Zs to strive for everyday, but when the going gets tough, the tough don’t sleep, so although you may have gotten your basal sleep need on a single night or a few nights in a row, you might still have a bit of sleep debt leftover – making you feel like you’re consistently not getting enough sleep.
The good news is, the scientists of sleep say sleep debts can easily be “repaid”. The question is, do you even know you owe your body sleep?
Sneaky Sign #1: You’re hungry all the time.
You didn’t skip breakfast, and you haven’t exactly amped up your workout routine, but you just can’t stop thinking about eating everything sugar-coated and/or dripping fat in the world. This is because your lack of sleep has thrown a bunch of hormones out of sync.
Meet ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Studies have shown that the less sleep you get, the more ghrelin is released into your system, which increases your appetite. In fact, in animals injected with this hormone, increased sniffing, foraging for and hoarding food were observed. (I relate absolutely.)
Meet the opposite of ghrelin, leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite. One of its jobs is to signal the brain that you’ve had enough to eat, which brings on a feeling of fullness. If you’re not clocking in enough sleep, your leptin levels remain low, which makes it more difficult for you to stop eating.
Another culprit goes by the name endocannabinoid, which takes the spotlight when your leptin levels are low from not getting enough sleep. Sounds familiar? It goes by this name because it actually mediates the effects of cannabis, especially on appetite. Your endocannabinoids increase your appetite, highten your taste buds’ sensitivity to sweets, and makes the brain interpret high-calorie food as pleasurable. You’re quite literally having the munchies.
Sneaky Sign #2: You feel like crying over everything.
You just do. I experience this about once or twice a month, and I always thought it was just PMS. Apparently, sleep deprivation makes it difficult for the brain to keep emotions in check and makes it 60 percent more reactive to negative and disturbing images. One study explained that when lacking sleep, the brain reverts to a sort of primitive state wherein it can’t put emotional experiences into context.
Sneaky Sign #3: You keep losing track of things.
Whether it’s where you put your car keys, the reason why you entered a room, or forgetting you’ve already accomplished a certain task, you just can’t seem to access your short term memory. Most would shrug these moments off as signs of aging or stress, but it’s your brain telling you it needs sleep, because it’s during sleep that the brain gets to store the day’s information into our short-term memory.
Sneaky Sign #4: You have a cold… again?
It’s pretty common knowledge that lack of sleep weakens your immune system. A study discovered that individuals who got less than 7 hours of sleep a day were thrice as likely to catch a cold than those who are able to sleep for at least 8 hours, and end up needing more time to recover as well. Sure, taking your Vitamin C gives a little boost in your defenses, but ultimately, it’s the protective substances your body produces in your sleep that can keep you from getting sick.
Sneaky Sign #5: You’re having “one of those days”.
You know those days when everything just won’t go right for you? You drop, break and spill things; you’re an unusually sloppy eater; you bump into things and they actually hurt. These are all because when you lack sleep, your motor skills are slower and less precise. Your ninja reflexes are dull, balance and depth perception are inaccurate, and hand-eye coordination and reaction time are all over the place – making you an awful catch.
Sneaky Sign #6: You’re just not in the mood.
If you seem to have suddenly lost your mojo in the bedroom, you might have to pay your sleep debt first before you can pay attention to your partner’s needs. Just the accumulation of tension, lack of energy, and most probably the amount of cortisol – the stress hormone – is enough to get in the way of some lovin’.
- How much is your sleep debt? (projecteve.com)
- Lack of Sleep and the Immune System (plushbeds.com)
- Sleeping Could Prevent You From Developing Type II Diabetes, Researchers Say (naturalsociety.com)