None of us are strangers to the irresistible urge to watch "just one more episode," or perhaps it's the lowlight of a dim lamp and the never-ending turn of glossy pages in an expensive textbook preventing you from catching some shut-eye. But, whether you're voluntarily staying up late for extra entertainment or doing it out of exam cramming, the detrimental effects of having less sleep will affect your well-being and will be more noticeable the following morning.
Our bodies need sleep to function effectively. Adults are told to aim for seven or more hours of sleep a night, while young children should be getting somewhere between nine and twelve hours because their still-developing bodies and brains require more rest. Unfortunately, life is a constant whirlwind of stress, commitments, and other time-consuming undertakings that gradually start to chip away at our sleeping hours.
It is tempting to play catch-up with an all-nighter every so often. After all, you've already cut your sleeping time in half to accomplish things you didn't have time for during regular daylight hours, so what's the harm in knocking out four more hours? Some sleep is better than no sleep, even if only for a few measly hours. So let's dive into the research and explore more of the following points:
- The Science of Sleep and why it is so important
- Why 4 hours of sleep is better than none at all
- The negative impacts of not getting enough sleep
What Exactly is Sleep and Why Do We Need It?
Everyone knows what sleeping is, but what about the science behind it?
Sleep is, at its core, an altered state of consciousness where we have limited interactions with our external surroundings and are typically quiet and still (though that also depends on the stage of sleep). In contrast to our dormant and silent physical state, the brain remains active and carries out many crucial functions while asleep. One of the mosting important functions within our minds is to sort out most of the information that we receive throughout the entire day. Our brains are extremely complicated and have a limited storage capacity, the ejection of memories is a very crucial part of sleep which is one of the reasons you seem so fogged up the next day after an all-nighter. Your brain was not given ample opportunity to sort out the useless information it has taken in.
Your bodily processes rely on sleep to appropriately function. Sleep is an essential factor of every body process, affecting our mental and physical health the next day, our ability to combat disease and develop immunity, our metabolism, and every other aspect of our health. Lack of sleep can actually increase your appetite due to the fact that your body requires more energy than it would with an adequate amount of shut eye. This can lead to an increase of weight, obesity and potentially type two diabetes if left unregulated.
Sleep touches on many parts of our overall well-being, from the psychological to the physical. A night filled with disturbances and restlessness is no fun, especially when you wake up the following morning and feel like a shell of a functioning human being because you only managed to get an hour of rest in total. At this point in the reading you may think to yourself “I can function just fine with about four hours of sleep” but that might actually be rarer than you might think. The gene ADRB1 can allow an individual to only get about 5 hours of sleep and still be well-rested and energized. The bad news is the likelihood that you have this gene is 0.004%, so maybe closing the laptop for the night and heading to bed to get your full eight hours would be the best course of action.
Luckily, a night of quality rest is relatively easy to achieve. While it is true that many individuals struggle with sleep quality and cannot get the rest their bodies require for optimal wellness, the steps to good sleep aren't complicated. From activities you participate in right before bedtime to your headspace, many factors you control directly influence how you feel when you go to bed.
Our bodies depend on sleep to stay healthy, but getting sufficient rest is easier said than done. Sleep only sometimes comes when we want it to, but getting 4 hours of sleep is better than none.
Getting to know the sleep cycle
The four sleep stages can be divided into rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). Between the two of them, NREM is more prominent during sleep, making up about 75 to 80 percent of the entire sleep cycle.
- Stage 1 (NREM) – The first stage, N1, is the lightest stage of sleep and only lasts between 1-7 minutes. During these initial minutes, your heart rate, brain waves, and breathing slow down, and your muscles relax. An individual can be easily awakened at this point of sleep, but if they are left undisturbed then they can move into stage 2 fairly quick.
- Stage 2 (NREM) – The second stage, N2, lasts around twenty-five minutes and gets longer with each additional cycle. In this stage, your body temperature drops while other bodily functions slow. But between these slow portions, there are bursts of activity to keep an individual unconscious.
- Stage 3 (NREM) – The third stage, N3 or "deep sleep," is when the body begins to repair itself and strengthens the immune system. This stage can be challenging to wake up from, and even loud noises may go unnoticed. Experts believe that this stage of the sleep cycle is responsible for maintaining critical thinking, and increased memory.
- Stage 4 (REM) – This stage is known as REM sleep, which you may be somewhat familiar with on account of the REM cycle is the stage of sleep where you are most likely to dream. It begins about ninety minutes after you fall asleep and repeats with each cycle. Paralyzed muscles and rapid eye movement beneath the eyelids can characterize REM sleep.
The Advantages of Getting a Full Night of Sleep
There are plenty of reasons that should motivate you to get a whole night of sleep every single night. First, sleep promotes good health habits by giving you the rest you need to recharge and feel ready for the next day.
Better Sleep Results in a Better Mood
If you go through the night without getting a wink of sleep, don't think you can bypass the adverse effects the following day. Sleep directly impacts mood, and not getting enough of it can make you feel irritable, lethargic, and dead to the rest of the world. Lack of sleep can cause conditions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders to worsen. Those with these pre-existing conditions are more likely to suffer from insomnia as well. So if you have these conditions, a good night’s rest could do you some good. And always remember that there is help if needed.
Conversely, a night filled with quality rest and minimal disturbances will result in positive benefits and a general feeling of being well-rested. Your body needs to recharge at the end of the day to have the energy required for tomorrow, and since mood is tied to energy levels, it isn't difficult to understand why rest is fundamental to being in a good mood.
Sleep Improves Memory
While your body is rejuvenating and catches up on the rest it desperately needs, your mind remains hard at work processing and consolidating the day's memories. Not getting enough sleep can cause issues with fully processing the day's events, running the risk of forgetting them or misremembering them. Therefore, prioritize a whole night of rest to allow your brain to process all of the day's activities. During sleep the mind is sorting through and trying to get rid of as much information as possible because our brains can only hold so much at once. With lack of sleep our minds do not have the ability to eject the useless information that it sorts through on a normal 8 hours of rest.
And if you are a University student, studying before an exam before going to bed will help you remember the information more the next day. So the next time you are contemplating pulling an all nighter, it is probably for the best to review one more time and hit the sheets.
Sleeping Increases Productivity
The urge to stay up late and work by the light of the moon is tempting when you're drowning in a pool of assignments and overdue tasks, but burning the midnight oil may do more harm than good.
Putting off a quality night of rest can adversely affect your ability to accomplish work the following day. If you stay up all night to play catch up with responsibilities, you must give your body time to recuperate from the day's events. Your metaphorical gas tank is running out of fuel and won't make it through tomorrow, preventing you from performing to your best ability.
Even coffee won't be able to keep you going forever and cannot serve as a replacement for sleep. The more cups you drink, the greater the feelings of burnout will be once the caffeine high wears off.
For you energy drink lovers, caffeine can adversely affect your anxiety and sleep schedule. Caffeine blocks receptors in the brain from feeling drowsiness and replaces it with adrenaline over time this will affect the amount of sleep you get and overall mood.
Sleep is Good for the Immune System and Heart
While your body catches up on the rest it needs during sleep, your immune cells and proteins also get a chance to rest so they are prepared to fight off new potential illnesses. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of recuperation when it comes to bouncing back from sickness. No amount of cold medicines or tylenol can help your body like good ol’ fashioned rest can.
Heart health is another aspect of your well-being that is positively affected by sleep. A lack of sleep can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure and heart attacks, but sleep allows your heart to rest and recharge like everything else.
To Sleep or Not to Sleep, Is 4 Hours of Sleep Better Than None?
If It's Down to a Couple of Hours or None, Which is Best?
When the urge to down another cup of coffee hits and the thought of pulling an all-nighter becomes ever more tempting, be aware of the potential consequences. Staying awake all night and getting no sleep can be hazardous for your health, as you need to give your body more time to recharge. Psychologically our mind cannot process reality correctly without sufficient sleep. After staying up for longer than 24 hours your cognition becomes impaired making it hazardous for you to operate any kind of machinery or vehicles, so driving is probably not the best after a solid all nighter.
Choosing not to sleep also interferes with your circadian rhythm, which functions as the body's internal clock that causes you to feel tired at night and awake during the daytime. As a result, as the time you usually go to sleep approaches, you experience a gradual increase in the presence of sleep pressure. This sleep pressure is a pronounced feeling of tiredness that can only be satiated through shut-eye, and it will continue to get stronger the longer you stay awake. But it may take a few nights for your Circadian rhythm to restore if your sleep schedule is way out of whack. The human body gets very used to patterns and when you directly affect that it can cause increased drowsiness, so that one night of 8 hours of sleep may not be enough. Not only is it the amount of sleep you get but also the consistency of your bed and wake times.
Ignoring sleep pressure can be dangerous. The more tired you feel, the more likely you are to make mistakes and confuse the reality of things around you. Specific activities that require thinking, become exceptionally dangerous to those baffled by tired brains. After about three or four nights without any sleep at all can cause hallucinations to occur, so it can be especially dangerous if you are prolonging sleep over the course of days because your perception is entirely diminished. Reality is warped when not given enough shut eye even if it is just a day or two.
When it comes down to it, staying awake in hopes of catching up on daytime responsibilities is not worth it in the end. No job is worth sacrificing your health for, and since sleep is a huge factor in your overall well-being, a refreshing night of rest is non-negotiable if you want to feel energized for tomorrow. Even if that means only getting about 4 hours of sleep going through some of the cycles is better than none.
Some individuals are not so keen on the idea of sleeping for a single long period of time, lasting about 8 hours but instead prefer sleeping in increments over the course of an entire day. The three most notable schedules are the Uberman, Everyman and the Triphasic sleep schedules. The Uberman and Everyman utilize dispersed 20 minute naps throughout the entire day while the Triphasic uses 4-5 hour sleeps at the beginning, middle and end of the day.
This sleep schedule may work for some individuals but for a large majority probably not. The Polyphasic schedules affect the natural circadian rhythm of the body, long term health effects and increases sleep deprivation. Some benefits may include increased memory, lucid dreaming and overall productivity but the cons may outweigh the benefits biologically.
Downsides of Skipping Sleep for a Night
We've established that you shouldn't stay up all night, as it negatively influences your health. However, even though it isn't something you should be doing doesn't negate the possibility of it happening. After all, life is a constant mess of jobs, stress, and other things that make you stay up at night, so it's reasonable to encounter the occasional sleepless night filled with constant tossing and turning.
While a rare night of restlessness isn't too big of a deal, missing excessive sleep isn't good for your long-term health. But even if you suffer from chronic sleep disorders and persistent insomnia, rest assured that there are preventative steps and strategies that you can adopt to promote sleep and get the rest you deserve.
Effects of a Lack of Sleep
- Impaired reaction time
- Irritability and mood issues
- Poor concentration
- Poor judgment
- Impaired short-term memory
- Increased pain and stress
If an individual prolongs sleep for a lengthy period of time they may experience what is known as microsleep. Episodes of sleep that only last a few seconds due to extreme tiredness. Conditions such as narcolepsy can induce a microsleeping episode but for an individual without narcolepsy it can be brought on through lack of sleep. This can be especially dangerous if you are driving, operating machinery or doing something as simple as going down the stairs.
This can be prevented with a simple 7-9 hours of sleep. This condition exemplifies a need for a consistent and well maintained sleep schedule. No one wants to nod off during an important meeting after an all-nighter.
Always ensure you get the opportunity to rest to stay on top of your game and keep your health in check. A good night's sleep is only a short while away, so long as you try to achieve it. Few things in the world can compare to the satisfaction of a restful night; honestly, that's a good thing. Considering sleep is one of the best activities for your body, you should always look forward to a blissful night of snoozing so you can start the next day off on the right foot.