Why one disrupted night’s sleep will affect every part of your body

Dr Michael Mosley is a doctor known for his books on health and wellbeing. Having just released one on sleep, we pick his brains about how to get more of it.

We love it, we want more of it, but damn, why is it so hard to get? Sleep makes the world go round – it keeps our bodies rested, it repairs us, it keeps our organs and hormones in balance.

So – when it’s wrong, we notice it. Big time.

Speaking on Body+Soul’s daily podcast Healthy-ish, Dr Michael Mosley says discusses a new MediBank study, which found that our sleep has been getting worse over the past year due to the impact of the pandemic.

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“What they found was that something like 65 percent of men report having a decent night’s sleep, compared to only 49 percent women. So less than half the women surveyed said they were getting a decent night’s sleep, which is pretty bad,” he tells host Felicity Harley on the Healthy-ish episode Dr Michael Mosley on how to get a REALLY good night’s sleep.

While you might be thinking – surely it’s always been this bad – Dr Mosley says that Aussies reported their sleep getting worse due to COVID-19, with health concerns and anxiety around jobs topping the list as to reasons why.

Why is it that women are tracking so low?

“I think firstly, there is evidence that women are more prone to anxiety and depression than men, or at least they acknowledge it more,” Dr Mosley says.

“And they also more empathic. They care more about what’s going on around them. So I suspect they are more sensitive, they are more worried about the impact of COVID-19 on the health of their family than men are.”

Once asleep, Dr Mosley says women tend to stay that way a little longer than men, about half an hour more per night, however they’re simultaneously much more likely to suffer from insomnia – so it’s a bit of a double edged sword.

It’s no surprise given women are struggling, considering the huge changes their bodies go through. From pregnancy, rearing young children and then the menopause, there’s a whole lot of biological reasons their sleep can become disordered.

Dr Mosley explains that there are a number of things that go wrong when we don’t get our forty winks:

  • Your memory goes
    “It’s a bit like having your memories on a memory stick, but you actually want to shift them into the hard drive. And that only happens during deep sleep.”
  • Your brain isn’t cleansed
    “During deep sleep as well, chambers in the brain open up and wash out all the gunk. So if you don’t get enough deep sleep, then that increases your risk of dementia.”
  • Your emotions get out of whack
    “It’s when you’re having your REM sleep, rapid eye movement sleep, that’s when you’re dreaming. That’s also when a lot of the emotion of the day gets processed.”

“If you’re not getting enough, you feel grumpy, you obviously feel tired, it increases your risk of type two diabetes, obesity [too]…it reduces your sex drive. Pretty well every system in your body is impacted by lack of sleep.”

If you’re starting to worry about all the Netflix you’ve been watching instead of sleeping. Don’t worry.

There are some easy steps you can do to get into a healthier routine. Dr Mosley recommends:

  • Geting some early morning light
  • Going for a walk in the morning to wake up properly and reset your internal clock
  • Avoiding caffeine and booze
  • Trying to stop eating two hours before going to bed
  • Making sure your room is dark and quiet
  • Setting a regular bed time and waking time because your body loves routine
  • Having a wind down process you do before bed
  • Getting rid of technology and entertainment in your bedroom

These steps will promote a healthier association with your room and prepare your body for sleep mode.

“What you need to do is make sure that your bed is associated with sleep and sex and nothing else,” Dr Mosley adds.

“You don’t want your bedroom to be an entertainment centre…it’s got to be really, really boring so that you will go to sleep – and it’s those associations which are really, really powerful.”

This is probably the only time you’ll hear that boring is better, but in this case, we’re all for it. Let’s go nap!