Everything that happens to your body when you don't get enough sleep
Sleep can be viewed as an inconvenience for some – think city traders, high on hubris, getting by on four hours. However, recent research by Wheaton College, Illinois has linked a poor and disrupted sleep with a higher risk of developing dementia – and it's only the latest in a line of studies that have highlighted the benefits of a good night's shut-eye. Getting a healthy dose of ZZZ's every day is probably more important than most of us realised. Nick Littlehales, a sleep coach and the author of a thorough guide to everything sleep, says the new findings are useful as a way of concentrating our mind on the value of sleep – but he warns against approaching sleep debt as something you accrue now to pay off later in life. "If we adopt a better approach to sleep, it will hopefully protect us as we get older. However, it is far more relevant to what we are doing right now". Diabetes is one such condition that Littlehales feels is a more relevant and immediate danger associated with poor or little sleep. Public Health England estimates that by 2035, 4.9 million people will have diabetes – and lack of sleep is a contributing factor. "Because you're run-down and that changes mood and motivation," Littlehales explains, "that changes your eating habits, which ultimately results in your ability to process sugars." On the health scale, sleep should be a weighty priority Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA In much the same way, poor sleep can result in obesity. A three-year study by Japanese researchers on 21,469 apparently healthy individuals aged over 20 found that people who slept less than five hours were more likely to gain weight compared to those who slept between 7 and 8 hours. It's believed that by undercutting your sleep, you throw your body out of rhythm and make poor lifestyle choices for the rest of the day. Littlehales brings up the idea that not enough sleep can also contribute to certain addictions or reliances. It generates a downward spiral of behaviour, where we become reliant on coffee to perk ourselves up after a miserable night of insufficient sleep. The caffeine intake, spread throughout the day, then keeps us awake late at night, starting the process off again. Some turn to sleeping tablets to cope with this inability to sleep, and while GPs will only prescribe them for a short period of time to reset your body clock, the internet has made it easier to find prescribed drugs like Temazepam and Zaleplon. According to the Economic and Social Research Council, one in 10 of us now regularly takes some form of sleeping tablet. Caffeine reliance can be the start of a downward spiral when it comes to our health Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Alongside these dangers, other obvious things will start to happen if you don't get eight hours of physical and mental recovery a day. Your looks will start to suffer, you become run-down and get sick, your ability to think clearly diminishes. You will even see a decrease in testosterone levels according to a study by the University of Chicago. "Next week it will be our eyes deteriorate because of poor sleep, then it will be livers or kidneys or heart," says Littlehales, "and then maybe you'll get shorter or increase the opportunity for stroke. All these things will start to come out. "Sleep protects our brains, helping to put it in a state where it can rejuvenate and restore itself, put everything back in sync, and try its best to help every cell and organ in the body to replenish." If we don't take the time to restore our bodies, then Littlehales thinks it's only inevitable that longer term health issues like dementia will arise. The sleep hacks that you need in your life, from cold showers to warm socks So, what can we do to stop the rot? Eight hours a night sounds great, but it can be easier said then done. Littlehales suggests one trick is to not put too much pressure on yourself to get one big eight-hour chunk. Instead, try to get eight hours in one 24 hour day. Take a quick half hour in your lunch break or on the train, to make up for sleep lost at night. That way, it matters less if you don't get to bed until midnight and know the alarm is going to do its thing at 6am. "It's a bit of an epiphany, realizing that in any 24 hour period you need to create that opportunity for your brain to go into a restorative state for the good of your health," says Littlehales.