When we sleep our immune system performs preventive maintenance which is key to our health, wellbeing and longevity. The effects of significant sleep deprivation mimic many of the hallmarks of ageing. Yet still four in ten people aren’t getting enough sleep, while one in five sleep poorly most nights—making sleep problems the second most common health complaint after pain.

So is our lack of sleep taking years off our life? Unfortunately, the answer to that is yes.

Getting enough sleep has a major impact on our hormone balance, inflammation, tissue repair and immune system. As a result, sleep loss can hasten age-related illnesses such as diabetes, memory decline and obesity.

So how can sleeping better help us to lead healthier and longer lives? There are many ways that sleeping better can help improve our health and longevity, including:

  • Increasing our chances of beating cancer—When we sleep powerful immune-system molecules in our body rise tenfold. One study showed that sleep loss led to subjects having 30% fewer cancer-fighting natural killer T cells the next day.
  • Keeping your heart strong—A sleep deficit of only 2 hours leads to an increase in the inflammatory markers that are associated with many chronic illnesses. As a result, we develop a condition of low-grade inflammation which in turn can lead to heart problems and a shortened life span.
  • Keeping stress-related illnesses at bay—When we sleep our body tries to repair damage caused by stress and prepares us to handle new stressful situations coming our way. The level of cortisol, a stress hormone, decreases and we produce more growth hormone which helps to repair tissue. If we don’t get enough sleep the level of cortisol in our body can remain elevated which keeps us in a state of constant stress, which in turn drives up our blood pressure.

Sleep deprivation not only has a physical impact on our health it also impacts our behaviour in ways that can be detrimental to our wellbeing.

Sleep deficit leads to a worsening of brain functions, in particular attention, which drastically increases the risk of accidents and injuries. People who don’t sleep enough are also more likely to have problems with alcohol and drug dependency.

By sleeping longer and better we can increase our chances of living longer and enjoying a better quality of life. Read some of our tips and advice on what you can do to improve on your sleep.


Sources: Gallup Wellbeing index, Waking up to the health benefits of sleep 2016, University of Oxford/ RSPH.