4 knock-on effects of a bad night’s sleep and what to do about it

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We asked the experts to talk us through the consequences of a poor night’s rest…

There are few worse feelings than spending the entire night tossing and turning, only for your alarm to rudely awake you the moment you finally manage to drift off.

What likely follows is an unproductive day fuelled by caffeine and whatever other means necessary to get you through before repeating the process.

But besides feeling wiped out, there’s also a number of knock-on consequences from a poor night’s kip, and with the small issue of a global pandemic to deal with, most of us have become acquainted with them.

We spoke to the experts to determine what exactly those are and how you can counteract them.

  • Why is sleep so important?

    For all the chat about how crucial sleep is, it can be easy to lose a grasp of the basics. Why is it a crucial pillar for our health? Well, as Dr Alka Patel explains, it’s literally a matter of life and death.

    “Many people say, ‘I don’t need much sleep, four to six hours is enough for me.’ But it’s not our perception of how much sleep we need that matters, it’s the biological impact of less than eight hours sleep that matters,” she explains.

    “We sleep for so many reasons – there is no single organ or any process in the brain which is not enhanced by sleep, or impaired by the lack of it.

    “Its function is linked to our ability to learn, to make memories and to make logical decisions. It calibrates our emotional brain circuits and lets us navigate social and psychological challenges.

    “It restocks the immune system and prevents infection. It retunes our metabolic states, regulating our appetite, balancing our gut microbes and health, and controls body weight. 

    “Sleep is a basic human need and core foundation for health and happiness, performance and productivity. Sleep keeps us alive.”

    So with that in mind, here’s what else the experts had to say about how poor sleep impacts every area of your health…

  • 1. What does bad sleep do to your body?

    More than feeling tired and run-down with a case of the dreaded fog brain, having a bad night’s sleep can also have an impact on your physical health.

    “When we are sleeping, our body continues to function, therefore a good night of quality sleep is key,” explains Dr Jackie Rose

    “It has a role in renewal and regeneration especially in the brain, helping to consolidate our memories. 

    “It also helps in the prevention of heart disease, dementia and depression.

    “Your response to insulin is also affected when you are sleep-deprived, putting you at risk of type 2 diabetes if this is a regular occurrence. 

    “Sleep deprivation or low-quality sleep is also bad for your immune system. 

    “This is so important right now, during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

    “It is a worry that doctors and nurses working on the front line will not be getting enough sleep and so may be at higher risk of a bad Covid-19 illness – especially those who have not been fully immunised.”

    One way to claim power over your sleeping patterns and better understand your overall health is by investing in a health smartwatch like the Fitbit Sense.

    As well as helping you understand your body’s response to stress and track your heart rate, the smartwatch helps you track your own personal sleep patterns.

    The Smart Wake feature gently wakes you up at the optimum time for your body based on what stage of sleep you’re in, so that you feel refreshed to start the day. 

    Sleep is highly personal, so the consistency of your wake-up time and sleep duration as part of a regular bedtime routine is more important than waking up at a set time.

    You can also check out your personal Sleep Score in the Fitbit app to have a look at your sleep quality based on things like heart rate, restlessness, time awake and sleep stages so you can plan towards better sleep.

  • 2. Why do you feel hungrier when you're tired?

    There’s a reason why you’re more likely to eat late into the night when you’re feeling tired.

    “The hormone which controls appetite is called ghrelin, and is produced by the stomach to signal to the brain when it is empty,” says nutrition coach Kristin Morris.

    “Meanwhile, the satiety hormone leptin is produced by fat cells to signal to the brain when you have had enough. 

    “Lack of sleep reduces the production of leptin, which causes us to overeat generally and at night we will be more likely to choose highly palatable foods containing fat and sugar.

    “In order to fall asleep, your body’s core temperature needs to decrease during the first phase of sleep. 

    “When you eat at night, it causes a rise in body temperature in order to help digest the food you are taking in. 

    “Eating late at night prevents you from going into that restorative deep sleep your body needs to perform maintenance. 

    “You should aim to eat your last meal two to four hours before you go to bed in order to signal to your body that it is time for digestive rest and recovery.”

  • 3. How is your workout impacted?

    It makes total sense that your workout plans take a hit when you’re not feeling well-rested, but what exactly is going on with your body when that happens?

    “If you have a poor night’s sleep, you are unlikely to enjoy your exercise or perform particularly well,” explains Siri Anderson, PT for Human Health by The Clinic.

    “You may even find that your balance or form is lacking, increasing your chance of injury.

    “Research points to the fact that exercising too late at night can negatively affect your sleep quality, though it all depends on which type of exercise you are doing. 

    “When we exercise, we release the endorphins dopamine and serotonin, which is great for lowering stress hormones like cortisol and improving mental well-being. 

    “However, endorphins also make you feel alert and awake, which is great earlier in the day but less so if you get your ‘runner’s high’ at 10pm. 

    “Certain types of exercises, such as HIIT or a fast-paced run, may keep your cortisol levels at an increased level for longer, leaving you wired and far from ready to crawl into bed. 

    “Doing a slower-paced yoga routine, a mindful breathwork or meditation session, however, is a great end to the day.”

  • 4. What is the toll on your mental health?

    Whether it’s reading the same work email five times before making sense of it, or snapping at your housemate over something trivial, we’ve all felt the mental effects of poor quality sleep.

    “We all have the occasional bad night’s sleep, and one night of tossing and turning is unlikely to cause any major harm,” says psychologist Dr Courtney Raspin.

    “But getting into a pattern of disturbed sleeping can impact your mental health and make you more likely to feel depressed or anxious.  

    “Inadequate sleep leaves us feeling irritable, struggling to concentrate and, moreover, research has linked it to poor decision-making. 

    “It affects our brain on a fundamental level, affecting neurotransmitters and stress hormones which can in turn have an adverse impact on thinking and emotional regulation. 

    “Try not to panic if you have a tough night. 

    “Worrying about not sleeping is one factor that maintains insomnia, so please, try not to dwell on it and think of one bad night as just that… a one-off. 

    “Try to lighten your workload after a bad night’s rest and if possible, avoid making big, significant decisions. 

    “To help you get through, try taking a walk in the sunshine. 

    “Exposing your body to natural light and some movement can help promote wakefulness and alertness.”

    And if you’re so stressed you can’t even see a pattern to it, try equipping your wrist with a health smartwatch like the Fitbit Sense which has stress management tools to help understand how your body responds to it.

    The smartwatch looks at your heart rate, activity levels and sleep, to help you gain a better understanding of how your body manages stress, which is a key ingredient to getting a good night’s rest.

Gain a better understanding of your sleep patterns and use it to inform your overall health with Fitbit Sense. Fitbit Sense also comes with a 6 months free trial of Fitbit Premium (for new users only) and within Premium, members get a deeper analysis of their Sleep Score with guidance on how to improve their overall sleep quality in the Fitbit app.