How does poor sleep affect your health?

A recent study conducted by the Sleep Council reported that a third of Brits get by on just five to six hours sleep a night. This is significantly less than the general rule of thumb of seven to eight hours per night. Many also assume that as our pace of life begins to slow after retirement, we require less sleep. Yet, research suggests that our bodies need a constant amount of sleep throughout our adult lives.

What does change as we age, however, are our sleeping patterns. In general, our sleep follows a multiple-stage pattern throughout the night, with periods of light sleep, deep sleep and dreamtime (REM sleep). Even if the amount of time spent sleeping as an older adult remains constant, older people generally experience more phases of lighter sleep than they used to. This is because the body starts to produce lower levels of growth hormone, meaning you also produce less of the ‘sleepy’ hormone melatonin. We’re sharing why getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for good health in those of all ages, but especially for those post retirement.

Poor sleep is bad for immune system

It’s well-known that a common cold can be far more of a problem as our immune system ages. A lack of sleep adds another dimension to further weaken your immune system’s ability to fight viruses as fewer antibodies are released when we don’t get enough sleep. A US study reveals that those who sleep for less than five hours a night are 4.5 times more likely to get ill compared those who got more than seven hours.

Poor sleep leads to weight gain

While there are many factors which can lead to weight gain, including genetics and diet, poor sleep has been proven to be among them. The hormone leptin is used by our bodies to regulate appetite, metabolism and calorie burning. A lack of sleep results in lower levels of leptin in the body. This makes your brain believe that you don’t have enough energy to function. Your brain tells you you’re hungry (when you’re not) and ensures the calories you consume are stored as fat for future energy dips. Coupled with a slowing metabolism, this process is particularly challenging for older people who are less active as it is becomes more difficult to combat any weight gain.

Poor sleep reduces mental wellbeing

Most of us would admit to feeling irritable and moody after a night of poor sleep. So, it’s therefore no surprise that chronic sleep deprivation may lead to long-term mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

Poor sleep increases risk of serious illness

It’s good to know that long-term sleep deprivation is associated with an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and therefore heart disease. A lack of sleep can also change the way in which our bodies process glucose which could lead to type 2 diabetes.

These are just some of the crucial reasons why we all need to ensure we get a proper night’s sleep. However, it’s evidently increasingly crucial as we age and our body’s defences and our ability to function on little energy are no longer as strong as they once were.