Mums always nag you to get to sleep early. However, the fast pace of modern society has left sleep the afterthought to busy commutes and longer working hours. In fact, the average amount of daily sleep we get has dropped from a health nine hours, to less than seven each night.

Grogginess, crankiness and fatigue are some of the more common and familiar effects of a sleepless night. However, beneath these minor unpleasant feelings, lie harmful and serious effects – including the loss of key thinking abilities, communication and brain function. Read on to find out why you should listen to mum, buy a mattress and realize that a good night’s sleep is more important than you may think.

Cognitive Abilities

Sleep deprivation affects both your brain and cognitive abilities. This can lead to lapses in attention and an inability to retain relevant information. Sleep loss can also affect working memory, which is responsible for retaining recently learned information.

Research shows that a good night’s sleep after learning something, will help you better retain the information. This makes sleep a vital component of memory consolidation.

These effects are the result of disruptions to the key brain networks, leading to riskier decision making and a decrease in the regulation of dopamine. This is why sleep deprived people are often grumpy and have a short temper.


Sleep is the first sacrifice when our lives become busy and we have increased demands. However, research suggests that even a small amount of sleep deprivation can take a significant toll on our health and productivity.

Therefore, while we may think that sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity; sleep deprivation will in fact impede your productivity throughout your additional hours. After all, you would much rather work at 100 percent for 5 or 6 hours, than at 40 percent for 8 or 9 hours.

Healthy Weight and Blood-Pressure

The link between obesity and health appears highest among young adults, but is a factor at any age. Research shows that when you diet while exhausted, your body burns through muscle and not the fat that you want to lose. Lack of sleep can also alter the hormone levels that are associated with appetite, leading to an increase in snacking and food cravings.

Evidence suggests that functions of sleep impact nearly every system in the body. Therefore, as sleep functions are so closely connected to the working of the human body, studies have shown that short sleep can raise blood pressure and impair how people regulate blood sugar. This leads to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and even some cancers.

So What is a ‘Good Night’s Sleep’?

What constitutes a good night’s sleep, will differ based on your age and level of physical activity. However, in all cases it should be uninterrupted. Here is a basic overview of what doctors recommend, but it is important to find the right balance for your body.

  • Infants should sleep 12-15 hours
  • Children should sleep 9 -11 hours
  • Teens  should sleep 8-10 hours
  • Adults should sleep 7-9 hours
  • Seniors should sleep 7-8 hours


From a corporate perspective, many major companies have already acknowledged the role that sleep plays in employee productivity and effectiveness. At the Huffington Post, employees can even slip away into a nap pod. Other companies have instituted email-free weekends and other company wide policies in order to give their workers a well deserved break.

These corporate policies recognise the fact that good performers need to take care of themselves first. A sleep-deprived employee is a less effective one, prone to making costly mistakes and failing to perform to their full potential.


Doctors stress that sleep is the third pillar of health, along with exercise and eating well. While the temptation to stay up later and get things done can be hard to overcome, its important to understand the true costs of sleep deprivation.

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