MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Why You Aren’t Thriving Off Five Hours of Sleep

You might have been getting by with around five hours of sleep every night, and that’s fine… except that we don’t want to just ‘get by’ when it comes to our sleep. We want our sleep quantity and quality to be enough to make us survive and THRIVE.

If you aren’t thriving off five hours of sleep per night, that means you’re like the large majority of the population who needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night!

There is an incredibly small amount of people who thrive off of five hours or less of sleep per night, but hear me when I tell you that this is INCREDIBLY RARE. In the largest sleep study conducted in the world with 44,000+ participants, not one participant showed signs of being one of these rare unicorns. 

The rare few who thrive from less sleep feel the same side effects of sleep deprivation or oversleeping when they sleep for longer than five hours. 

But you’re here to find out why you aren’t thriving off 5 hours of sleep, so let’s talk a bit about why you need more sleep.

Why do we Sleep?

While we’re snoring away, our brain and body are recovering, and growth and development are happening. 

Sleep and Memory

Sleep is responsible for our long-term memory. While we’re asleep, the brain turns moments into memories, solidifying them so they’re stored and easily recalled. It does this by strengthening relevant neural connections while dismissing the interfering ones. 

We get inundated with information on a daily basis, and it’s no good remembering all of it. I don’t need to remember what colour jacket the guy was wearing in front of me in line at the store. My friends baby announcement on the other hand, maybe that’s worth remembering. 

Sleep essentially helps with the memory selection process, keeping memories that are worth retaining, ignoring the information deemed irrelevant. 

Sleep and Emotions

What do children do when they’re tired? They’ll typically turn into a little monster, screaming, pouting, getting cranky, rubbing their eyes, fussing about. They might cry out of frustration with nothing apart from sleep being the solution to their emotional outbreak. 

We all respond to sleep deprivation this way to a certain degree. We might be more able to control ourselves as adults, but that doesn’t mean that internally, we’re handling sleep deprivation any better. 

While we’re sleeping, our brain processes information it recently received, deciding what to integrate and what to dismiss. The brain processes its intel, allowing us to react to situations in an appropriate way. 

Sleep deprivation on the other hand interrupts this process, increasing the chances of an overreaction to a situation taking place. Maybe we’ll resort back to our sleep-deprived child self, jumping up and down declaring it’s not fair! Or getting cut off in traffic and really just letting out the road rage. 

Bit embarrassing… but it happens to the best of us after not enough sleep!

Have you ever had a problem to resolve, and someone suggests ‘just sleep on it.’ Well, now you know why this is such great advice! Our brain is going to figure out the problem while we’re snoozing. 

Sleep and Cognition

A lack of sleep affects us cognitively. You probably know the feeling of being a bit sleep deprived and really struggling to focus, think, react or make decisions. 

Multitasking is something that we do every day, probably without even realising. 

While we’re driving, we’re multitasking. We’re using our hands, feet, vision, hearing, logic, and awareness all at once. We might fiddle with the radio or windshield wipers. Statistically, this multitasking becomes so difficult when sleep deprived that a sleep-deprived driver, statistically, is as dangerous to themself and others as a drunk driver!

Sleep and Physical Health

Sleep impacts our cardiovascular system. Getting enough, quality sleep decreases blood pressure and cholesterol, decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Lack of sleep however harms us by reversing the above. We also tend to make bad decisions when we’re sleep-deprived. Statistically, we’re more likely to make less healthy food and lifestyle choices when we’re tired. We’re less likely to move our bodies and eat good, nutritious food. We’re much more likely to not move much at all and eat things that do not promote good health. This has a lot to do with the lack of emotional processing, resulting in emotional eating the following day.

Sleep and Stress

Sleeping offers stress-relief to the mind and body, serving as a welcomed break from our daily stressors. It gives the body a chance to repair damage caused by stress. When we don’t get enough sleep, our body experiences higher levels of stress hormones and inflammation and isn’t great at repairing itself.

Sleep and Weight

While we’re asleep, we’re in a fasted state as we are unable to eat. Adequate rest also helps the body maintain normal levels of ghrelin, our hunger signalling hormone, and leptin, our satiety hormone.  

Too little sleep, you guessed it, does the opposite. We have more time awake to eat, and usually, not the right foods as we’re sleep-deprived and less able to make good nutritional decisions. Not enough sleep disrupts the production of ghrelin and leptin, making us more likely to feel hungry, and less able to notice when we’re full. This paired with the fact that we eat the wrong kinds of foods when sleep-deprived can lead to weight gain.

Sleep and YOU

So what does this information mean for you? It means it could very well be worth improving your sleep quantity. A great way to do this is by looking at changes you could make to your sleep routine

What is your current sleep routine? Does it plan for 8 hours of sleep? Are you simply struggling to actually get to sleep once in bed? Are you waking up in the middle of the night? Figuring out the weak spots in your sleep routine will enable you to make changes.

When it comes to implementing sleep routine changes, be sure that you’re only making one small, manageable change at a time. If you can’t implement the chosen change, make it even smaller and even more achievable. Not making it to bed 1 hour earlier? Aim for 30 minutes. Still not managing it? Aim for 10 minutes. Once your change turns into an automatic habit, that’s when you can consider adding one more small, doable improvement.

We know how important sleep is. If you’re concerned about your sleep quality and quantity, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider. 

About the author

Gabie Lazareff is a certified health coach, yoga teacher and freelance nutrition and wellness writer. She’s on a mission to spread the word about the importance of sleep in order for us not just to survive, but to thrive.