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Why sleep matters

The end of the year can be busy and stressful for many people so you may have used the recent Christmas and New Year period to rest and catch up on sleep. However, research indicates that being in a cycle of sleep deprivation and ‘catching up’ eg on weekends is far from optimal and can have long-term adverse health consequences.

Sleep is an essential biological function that enables your body and mind to rest and recharge.

Good quality sleep helps the body remain healthy and reduces your risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, obesity, and even chronic pain conditions.

When we are sleep-deprived, this causes our cortisol levels to increase. Cortisol is the main stress hormone, which is necessary for many bodily functions, but at increased levels, it can trigger an increase in cravings for carbohydrates, particularly sugary foods and this then sends our glucose levels up, which in turn can trigger weight gain, particularly an increase in belly fat, and puts us at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Numerous studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day are at significantly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Other consequences of not getting enough sleep include exhaustion, brain fog, heart conditions, reduced sex drive, and irritability.

Patterns of restricting sleep during the week and ‘catching up’ over the weekend are prevalent in modern society despite evidence that this can have a cumulative deleterious physiological effect.

As with many things in life, consistency is key. Sleep deprivation for the majority of the time cannot be overcome by sleeping in on the weekend.

Here are some signs that you may be sleep-deprived and not getting enough consistent, good quality sleep:

  • You are tired and irritable

  • You wake up a lot during the night

  • Increased appetite

  • Weight gain, especially around the belly

  • Frequent yawning during the day

  • Daytime fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating and focussing on tasks

  • Poor memory

  • Looking fatigued – dark circles under eyes, saggy or puffy eyelids, pale or dull skin

  • Reduced sex drive

Here are a few things you can try to get better quality, consistent sleep:

  • aim to go to sleep, and wake up, at the same time every day, even on weekends

  • avoid alcohol and food in the 2-3 hours before going to sleep

  • avoid using electronic devices such as your mobile and tablet in the 1-2 hours before going to sleep and remove them from the bedroom (also remove the tv from your bedroom)

  • aim to get at least 10-15 minutes of exposure to natural light first thing in the morning

  • invest in the best quality bed lined you can afford as well as a comfortable mattress and pillows

  • sleep in total darkness if you can – use eye masks or block out shutters or curtains

  • avoid caffeinated drinks after lunch as 50% of that caffeine will remain in your system 12 hours later


Norah S. Simpson, Moussa Diolombi, Jennifer Scott-Sutherland, Huan Yang, Vrushank Bhatt, Shiva Gautam, Janet Mullington, Monika Haack, Repeating patterns of sleep restriction and recovery: Do we get used to it?, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Volume 58, 2016, Pages 142-151, ISSN 0889-1591.

Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome, Carla S. Möller-Levet, Simon N. Archer, Giselda Bucca, Emma E. Laing, Ana Slak, Renata Kabiljo, June C. Y. Lo, Nayantara Santhi, Malcolm von Schantz, Colin P. Smith, and Derk-Jan Dijk, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 19 March 2013.

Chamara Visanka Senaratna, Dallas R. English, Dianne Currier, Jennifer L. Perret, Adrian Lowe, Caroline Lodge, Melissa Russell, Sashane Sahabandu, Melanie C. Matheson, Garun S. Hamilton, Shyamali C. Dharmage. Sleep apnoea in Australian men: disease burden, co-morbidities, and correlates from the Australian longitudinal study on male health. BMC Public Health. 2016; 16(Suppl 3): 51–61. Published online 2016 Oct 31.

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