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Making up for Lost Sleep

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

The Healing Power of Zzzs and Impact of Counting Sheep

Originally written for Alive magazine. Read full article here.


Experts suggest that six hours is the minimum length of sleep required for optimal health in average adults. A recent study investigated the impact of having less than six hours of sleep for eight consecutive nights. The findings suggest that just one night of insufficient sleep can cause both mental and physical symptoms, which worsen with consecutive nights of lost sleep.

The study participants reported feeling angry, nervous, lonely, irritable, and frustrated from sleep loss. They also experienced symptoms including upper respiratory problems, pain, and digestive issues. These symptoms did not return to normal until participants had one night of at least six hours of sleep.

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Factors associated with sleep loss


While the mental and physical symptoms of acute sleep loss may subside once proper sleep duration has been restored, it’s harder for the body to recover if sleep loss becomes chronic.

Chronic sleep loss can contribute to systemic low-grade inflammation, which is involved in the development of conditions such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and neurodegeneration. Research shows that sleep disturbance increases the risk of infectious disease and contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression.


Sleep allows the body to rest and repair, the effects of which are crucial for daytime functioning and overall health.


Sleep is vital for emotional processing and memory consolidation. Sleep loss impairs long-term memory and attention, and can lead to increased anger, frustration, and anxiety.


Sleep loss impairs the speed and accuracy of task performance, decision-making, and exercise recovery.


Sleep drives the synthesis of reproductive hormones, and sleep deprivation is associated with infertility in both men and women.


Sleep promotes balance in the immune system by regulating inflammatory mediators known as cytokines. Short sleep duration and shift work are associated with increased upper respiratory infections and chest colds.


Sleep may play a role in staving off diabetes, weight gain, and obesity. Chronic sleep loss increases the risk of metabolic dysfunction and loss of muscle mass. Insufficient sleep leads to increased eating and weight gain in women, whereas restoring adequate sleep decreases caloric intake, particularly from fats and carbohydrates.


Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the fourth of four stages that the brain cycles through during its rest. This is the stage in which we dream, process emotions, and prepare for next-day emotional and social functions. During REM sleep, we consolidate learning and memory.

Emotional brain processing depends upon a regular sleep/wake rhythm, which tends to be disturbed among those with depression. Changes in serotonin may also contribute to REM sleep abnormalities in depression.


This sweet respite of unconsciousness during your day may be an effective way to recover from sleep debt. Napping has been shown to improve performance and alertness among those with regular sleep deprivation, including night shift workers and pilots.

Research is inconclusive about the ideal nap length, although one study in athletes found that a long nap (35 to 90 minutes) is superior to a short nap (20 to 30 minutes) for improving exercise, cognitive performance, and perceptual responses.

Another study shows that a midday nap as short as six minutes exerts a positive effect on memory function.

Originally written for Alive magazine. Read full article here.

Counting Sheep?

Book your Comprehensive Initial Consultation for your

Sleep Better Strategy

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