We all know the foggy feeling after a night of commuting, scientists now confirming that a single episode of insomnia can “dramatically alter” our “daily functioning.”
Insomnia is thought to affect up to a third of British adults to some extent. A missed night’s sleep has no lasting health consequences. However, chronic sleep problems have been linked to heart disease, cancer, and even premature death.
To better understand how insomnia affects our emotional well-being, scientists at the University of South Florida analyzed nearly 2,000 healthy middle-aged adults, who kept sleep diaries for eight consecutive days.
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Getting less than six hours of sleep – the lower limit of official recommendations – in a single night left participants angry, nervous, lonely, irritable and frustrated the next day.
They also endured physical symptoms, such as pain, bowel problems, and “upper respiratory tract problems.”
“Many of us think we can pay off our sleep debt on weekends and be more productive on weekdays, however, results show that just one night of sleep loss can dramatically affect your daily functioning,” he said. stated lead author Dr Soomi Lee.
Scientists in Florida analyzed Midlife Study participants in the United States, of whom just over two in five (42%) had at least one night of poor sleep in the eight days.
Each additional night of poor sleep resulted in an increase in “daily negative affects” alongside a reduction in “positive affects,” the results show – published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
The rate of these effects slowed, however, as the consecutive bouts of insomnia accumulated.
Mental and physical symptoms did not disappear until participants slept more than six hours.
Dr Lee warned that once our bodies get used to little sleep, it becomes harder and harder for us to recover from insomnia, which worsens the cycle.
The research comes after the same scientists discovered that losing just 16 minutes of sleep can affect our performance at work.
Mild insomnia has also been linked to a reduced ability to practice mindfulness, which many use to manage stress and maintain a healthy routine.
To ensure good “daily functioning,” Dr. Lee recommends that people set aside at least six hours a night for sleep.
“Making an effort to break the vicious cycle of sleep loss can protect the daily well-being of adults whose sleep time is often compromised,” the scientists wrote.
Tips for a good night’s sleep
People who have trouble sleeping are advised to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
Relaxing with gentle yoga, a hot bath, soothing music, or a relaxing book can also help. Writing down a to-do list for the next day can also calm a tired mind.
Experts also recommend that people avoid screens, like their phones, for about an hour before bed.
Bedrooms should also be ‘sleep friendly’, with a comfortable mattress, a pleasant temperature, and blackout curtains if necessary.
Keeping a sleep diary can help people relate a bad night’s sleep to lifestyle habits, like drinking too much coffee or alcohol.
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