The Damaging Effects Just A Few Bad Night’s Sleep Can Have On Your Brain

If you’ve been suffering from a lack of sleep you probably enjoyed that extra hour when the clocks went back last weekend. With the nights getting colder and darker, there is nothing quite as comforting as getting tucked up in bed.

But many of us never feel like we get don’t get enough sleep – even though it’s such a hot commodity. It turns out that many people are not just exaggerating about feeling tired. According to the Sleep Council the average person in Britain gets six-and-a-half hours sleep a night, which is nowhere near enough! The NHS recommends adults get a minimum of seven hours sleep and children get at least nine hours.

This week, BBC Two programme, Trust Me I’m a Doctor will be exploring the consequences sleep deprivation can have on our mental health.

Back in 2013, the Trust Me team conducted an experiment with Dr Simon Archer, to test how our bodies physically responded to a lack of sleep. Volunteers were asked to cut down on their sleep by one hour a night for a week.

The results showed that being too tired doesn’t make us feel and act groggy; it has a serious impact on our health. From altering blood sugar levels and encouraging you to overeat, too little sleep can also influence our DNA.

Dr Archer found that the activity of many of the volunteers’ genes was affected, some of which are associated with inflammation and diabetes.

But it is not just physical consequences that we suffer from when we have too little sleep. It can also seriously impact our mental health.  

To investigate this further the Trust Me team joined up with some specialist sleep scientists at Oxford University to measure how sleep affects us mentally.

Four volunteers were recruited who usually sleep very well. For three nights they had their sleep restricted to four hours and after each night they completed a psychological questionnaire.

The results were very revealing. Doctoral student Sarah Reeve ran the experiment and had this to say about how the volunteers responded: “There were increases in anxiety, depression and stress, also increases in paranoia and feelings of mistrust about other people.

“Given that this happened after only three nights of sleep deprivation, that is pretty impressive.”

Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, led a much larger study to The Trust Me team but had very similar results.

He believes that one of the reasons sleep deprivation is so bad for our brains is because it encourages repetitive negative thinking.

Daniel said, “We have more negative thoughts when we’re sleep-deprived and we get stuck in them.”

However, Daniel stressed that a lack of sleep won’t necessarily guarantee you develop a mental illness but it does greatly increase the risk.

If you are suffering from insomnia, you might want to try some natural insomnia cures that will help you nod off.

Trust Me I’m a Doctor – Mental Health Special airs on BBC Two at 9pm tonight, Wednesday 1 November.

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