What Happens To Your Brain And Body When You Only Get Six Hours Sleep?

Time to get some shut-eye 😴

More than half of adults in the UK sleep for six hours or less each night, while just 17 per cent of adults enjoy the recommended eight hours, new research suggests.

The poll of 2,000 people, by health insurer Aviva, found the average adult sleeps for just 6.4 hours each night. Against the NHS recommended eight hours of sleep, this could mean we’re losing a staggering 11 hours of sleep each week.

We’ve all felt groggy after staying up to watch one last episode on Netflix before bed, but sleep deprivation could be having a lasting impact on our physical and mental health.

According to the NHS, most of us need around eight hours of good quality sleep each night, although some need more and others less. What’s key is finding the amount the makes you feel on your A-game – then getting it.

Unsurprisingly, skipping precious shut-eye (or simply struggling to nod off after a stressful day) can have an impact on how you feel when you wake up.

Sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor, founder of The Sleep Works, tells HuffPost UK that short term impacts of sleep deprivation include “fatigue, lack of focus and concentration, and short temper”.

“While the occasional bad night of sleep makes us feel tired and irritable, it will not affect us long term,” she adds.

However, it’s when we regularly miss sleep that the real issues surface. Long term impacts of regular sleep deprivation include sleepiness during the day which can cause accidents and injury, reduced memory function, reduced levels of alertness, and reduced skills in reasoning and problem solving, says Taylor.

“Lack of sleep can also cause increased risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure,” she adds.

Chris Miller, research lead for Big Health, which runs online therapy courses for issues including insomnia, explains that these negative health outcomes are caused by the body not having enough time to repair itself during the night.

“Sleep drives a whole lot of change in the body and the brain during the nighttime that helps replenish the body, trying to help with the wear and tear of day time functioning,” he tells HuffPost UK.

A lot of organs and physiological processes are being replenished during the night time with hormones during sleep, and it’s thought that if you don’t have access to those hormones and other physiological processes that go in hand with them, particularly during slow wave sleep, that can put someone of risk of illness.”

Both Taylor and Miller point out sleep deprivation, also referred to as sleep restriction, can have a negative impact on mental health, too, with multiple studies linking it to increased instances of depression.

“With sleep restriction you have emotional regulation impaired,” says Miller. “People who have impaired sleep are having less empathy and so perhaps aren’t having as many interpersonal connections as well during the day. That can create a negative feedback, which can contribute to the emergence of conditions like depression and anxiety.”

But it is possible to break the cycle and in some cases reverse the negative health outcomes of sleep deprivation. Miller recommends establishing good “sleep hygiene” habits, such as limiting screen time and removing devices from the bedroom before sleep. And if insomnia persists, speak to your GP about accessing behavioural therapy, which can be received in person or online via Sleepio, a digital sleep-improvement programme that is currently available for free via the NHS in London, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, with hopes to extend to other areas in the future.