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This week Dr Zac Turner looks at how good sleep can change your life.

QUESTION: Hi Dr Zac, I’m preparing to reinvigorate my life next year and my first point of action is working on my sleeping patterns. At the moment I’m trying to squeeze as much as possible into my days, which means I’m currently only getting about five hours sleep.

I often go to bed at midnight because I’m working on the computer or binge-watching a Netflix show, but I also like to wake up early to exercise before work.

I’ve heard that you’re supposed to get eight hours of sleep every night – but what are the benefits? I seem to be coping on five hours of sleep at the moment. – Nelson, 33 Wagga Wagga


Great question Nelson, did you know two hours of extra sleep each night can make a huge difference for your health and wellbeing? To put this into perspective, if you went from five hours to seven, that’s an extra 730 hours of sleep you’ll be gaining each year. Just as important is that people who are sleep-deprived can show the same responses and signs as those that are intoxicated.

Sleep is majorly important in keeping up our body’s health, especially in maintaining the function of our body’s systems. In recent years we’ve learned that during sleep, waste material is flushed out of our brains – think of this like changing your car’s oil. The proteins found inside this waste material has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The immediate symptoms of sleep deprivation include yawning, lack of concentration, irritability, forgetfulness, and anxiety – sound familiar?

Next time you encounter a grouchy person, don’t take it personally. They most likely didn’t get a good sleep the night before. But if it keeps on happening, it could be good to ask them if they’re OK as often reduced sleep is a sign that someone might have increased stress or might need some extra support.

Let’s look at both the physical and mental repercussions of long-term sleep deprivation.

At your current nightly average of five hours of sleep, I assure you will eventually encounter some of these symptoms as sleep is the key to laying down long-term memories, resetting the brain, regulating hormone levels. This is why shift work which disrupts the regular sleep cycle called our circadian rhythm is so detrimental and why I find it fascinating to work with patients to improve their sleep as it helps every part of their lives.

A common side-effect of not enough sleep is increased stress hormones like cortisol which in turn can cause weight gain, and eventually obesity. Studies have found adults who don’t get enough sleep are 89 per cent more likely to develop obesity than those with regular sleeping patterns.

Along with this sleep deprivation increases your body’s production of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and decreases the level of leptin in your body, which suppresses appetite.

To make matters worse, without the proper amount of sleep you can have reduced motivation to exercise which will increase your chances of obesity-related illnesses. I strongly recommend you increase your hours of sleep. Think of it like doing a super set at the gym – it’s that beneficial to your workout routine.

Mentally, sleep deprivation has been associated in studies to have the same effect as alcohol intoxication. You become forgetful, you struggle to comprehend tasks and will encounter a decrease in productivity.

Your brain functions at a significantly lower rate and you will feel the consequences. This could lead to failure in relationships, or losing your job and has been connected to depression and anxiety. Studies have shown sleep deprivation leads to a reduced ability in recognising social cues and processing emotions.

I’ve painted a very bleak picture for you Nelson, but I strongly believe in making sure you get the right amount of sleep in your life. You are going to have to plan out your days, set a time to go to sleep, and a time to wake up – making sure it involves at least seven hours of sleep.

And my final tip – don’t scroll the internet on your phone in bed before you go to sleep. It will have a profound effect on the quality of your sleep.