Sleep is half bread, says an ancient proverb. Even if you’ve never heard this saying, it’s easy to understand its meaning: sleep is as important as food par excellence, bread. Folk wisdom is not entirely wrong, because sleep is a form of nourishment for the body. In fact, it is while we sleep that our batteries are recharged to face the day that awaits us.
During the night the cells regenerate, the heart and breathing slow down and our blood pressure decreases. For all these reasons, not sleeping well, or sleeping little, has consequences on the quality of our life and, in the long run, on our health. Here we talk about it in a simple way.
What happens to our body when we can’t sleep
We want to reassure you immediately: it will not be some sleepless nights that will cause you health problems… But, think about it: how do you feel after a sleepless night? Tired out! And when you are tired you cannot concentrate, you are more grumpy and even more hungry and in need of sugar and coffee. And if insomnia comes to keep you company for a more or less prolonged period of time, you may experience some of the consequences we are talking about below.
1. Increased state of anxiety
Our daily rhythms are different from those of our grandparents: we are always in a hurry, we chase time all day that seems to pass too quickly. This, in general, creates more or less accentuated states of anxiety. So much so that anxiety is considered one of the evils of our time.
Anxiety and lack of sleep then create a vicious circle. Because worries prevent us from sleeping well and, at the same time, sleep deprivation generates anticipatory anxieties.
What is anticipatory anxiety? Imagine yourself in bed thinking about all the things you have on your agenda for tomorrow, such as a work commitment or a sports competition, or a trip. Anticipatory anxiety is thinking about how these things will go before they happen. These thoughts are not constructive at all, they make you consume a lot of energy and do nothing but fuel insomnia.
2. Increased hunger
You may have noticed that after a sleepless night, you need more food. You justify yourself thinking that, since you got little sleep, you need energy and satisfy your cravings for carbohydrates, sugars and coffee without a second thought.
You must know, however, that this need derives from an alteration of the physiological mechanisms: yes, not sleeping changes the metabolism. With insomnia the level of the hormone that reduces appetite (leptin) decreases, while the level of the one that stimulates it (ghrelin) increases: this is why you are hungrier.
Furthermore, when you do not sleep well, the sense of fatigue that attacks during the day means that you move less, you begin to give up walking, going to the gym, and therefore our body has no way to burn accumulated fat. For this reason, sleep disturbances are often linked to being overweight and obese.
3. We are more prone to get sick
Sleep is one of the immune system’s best allies, did you know? It is while we sleep that the body produces fundamental substances, such as cytokines, which have the task of defending us from disease. Not sleeping, or sleeping little, causes our body to produce a low amount of cytokines, which reduces the efficiency of our immune system and thus increases the risk of contracting infections.
A study, shows that people who sleep less than 7 hours a night, or who have disturbed sleep, are 3 times more at risk of catching a cold than those who they sleep an average of 8 consecutive hours.
4. Premature aging of the skin
There is no escaping the signs of aging, and there is no doubt about this, just as there is no doubt that a healthy lifestyle also improves our physical appearance. Especially that of our face. As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, cell renewal takes place during sleep. Our skin is a blackboard on which we draw our mood. Not sleeping, perhaps associated with wrong eating habits and anxiety and stress problems, makes the skin of the face lose elasticity, makes wrinkles deeper and more visible and dulls the complexion.
5. Less concentration
When we are tired we struggle to concentrate because our mind cannot keep the attention threshold high. It also seems that not sleeping has negative implications for learning and memory as well.
A study shows, in fact, how much the REM phase of sleep (the one in which we dream) is important for declarative memory, that is, for the learning of information. The problems of insomnia, therefore, also result in the difficulty in memorizing concepts and notions, hindering our mind to be active and lucid.
Yes, our grandparents were right: we can really consider sleep one of the main “foods” of our health.