One person’s account of the hidden costs of sleep loss.
Increased risk of developing: strokes, type 2 diabetes, obesity, dementia, etc., anyone who struggles with sleep will, am sure, be acutely aware of the long-term problems that insomnia can lead to (I certainly was). But have you ever wondered how much a poor night’s sleep is costing you in the short-term? Just what are the hidden daily costs of sleep loss?
I never really gave it that much thought until I read an article that told me we spend, on average, £13.85 every time we go to the coffee shop. And that totalled over £2K a year. Just on coffee.
How can one person spend so much? Impossible, right?
Or so I thought, which prompted me to quantify in my head what £13 would equate to in terms of coffee and snacks. When would someone spend so much – aside from treating a friend to coffee – in a coffee shop?
That got me thinking about the amount of money I’ve spent on coffee after a poor night’s sleep. My mind drifted back to when my insomnia was particularly bad (at the time, I was working a freelance project in London which meant up at 06:00 regardless of whether I’d notched up 8, 7 or more realistically 2 hours’ sleep).
At the time I was trying to lose weight and so I was keeping a food log. When I picked out a typical ‘the day after the poor night before’ diary and totted it up, I was shocked, not just about the coffee bill, but the additional food I’d eaten (read: calories consumed).
Here’s what I found out.
Sleep loss costs pounds (£££)
In total, on coffee alone, I had spent £10.20 plus an additional £4 on snacks. All up, a rubbish night’s sleep had cost me an extra £14.20 in a coffee shop. Not far off the £13.85 National average and double the amount I usually spend on coffee during a working day (one on the commute into work and one at lunchtime – I love my coffee!)
But that total didn’t take into account the other costs: missed days because of no-sleep (being a freelancer on a zero-hour contract at the time, that also cost me a day’s wage) and additional expenditure on food, which totalled £4.
That £9 overspend is perhaps manageable if it’s a one-off, but I was averaging 2-3 sleep-disturbed nights a week; that average overspend could easily mount up to between £18-27 a week. I don’t even want to think about how much that was costing a year. However, as we’re talking figures, considering I battled with insomnia for 10 years, the price of my insomnia could easily have been £8K (working on the basis of a 45 week year x £18 a week x 10 years) possibly as much as £12,150. That’s the price of a car! Or several very nice holidays. And this is BEFORE I account for the loss of earnings from the many days I missed due to lack of a night’s sleep.
Sleep deprivation costs pounds (lbs)
But that’s not all that sleep deprivation cost me. I may have been losing pounds in the pocket, but I was also gaining the wrong sort of pounds. At the time, I didn’t think I was over-eating. However, when I came to write this blog I started totting up just how much I had spent on coffee and food the day after a sleepless night. Looking at the food diary, I was keeping at the time, I also totalled the amount of calories I’d consumed on an average day-after-a-no-sleep-the-night-before.
Typically, after a sleepless night, the additional coffees and snacks equated to 512 calories. Doesn’t sound like much but adding 500 calories to your daily consumption can add a pound in weight on, which would explain why the weight gain crept on very gradually and seemingly imperceptibly.
But why do we eat more when we don’t get enough sleep?
Sleep loss changes the timing and release of appetite-controlling hormones. During sleep deprivation, ghrelin (the hormone that the stomach produces to tell the brain you’re hungry) gets released in larger amounts. As the stomach fills, the body releases the satiety hormone leptin to tell the brain that you’re full. However, during sleep deprivation, leptin gets released in smaller amounts, which means that not only do you feel hungrier but once full, your body doesn’t recognize that it’s time to stop eating. The combination of increased hunger with decreased satiety leads to overeating and weight gain.
And if my story wasn’t proof enough researchers at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. studied 17 normal, healthy young men and women for eight nights, with half of the participants sleeping normally and half sleeping only two-thirds their normal time. Participants ate as much as they wanted during the study. Interestingly though, the sleep-deprived group, who slept one hour and 20 minutes less than the control group each day consumed an average 549 additional calories each day (and my calculation bears that out too). The amount of energy used for activity didn’t significantly change between groups, suggesting that those who slept less didn’t burn additional calories. Which would mean the sleep deprived group are eating more calories than needed which would lead to weight gain.
So that would explain my sneaky weight-gain.
Sleep deprivation ruins the skin
I’ve never been blessed with great skin but then I developed Rosacea, coincidentally or not, at the same time as my problems with sleep began. A bad night’s sleep would trigger a very public flare up and that would be completely demoralising. If that wasn’t bad enough, my skin would be suffering in additional ways as dermatologist Dr. Firas Al-Niami (quoted in the Telegraph about this very subject) explains:
Furthermore, lack of sleep affects the moisture levels in the skin (lower moisture levels leads to wrinkles!) as well as lowering pH levels, which is why skin looks less youthful and has less of a glow, the morning after a night of no sleep. It can also lead to increased redness and even trigger breakouts, as I know all too well.
Sleep loss means a strained relationship
If one of you can’t sleep, then chances are this isn’t going to go unnoticed by any sleeping partner. The end result makes for a disturbed night’s sleep for both of you and that’s not very conducive to matrimonial harmony. Even though my husband is an excellent sleeper and would often help me try to get to sleep, my sleepless nights definitely took its toll on him and our relationship too.
I’m not alone. Several studies have looked into this and concluded that poor sleep puts additional strain on relationships. For example:
This study suggests that poor sleep may contribute to a lack of appreciation between romantic partners. Their results showed that people tended to feel less appreciated by their partners if either they or their partner slept poorly. The last finding is particularly interesting. A lack of sleep by one person in the relationship resulted in a greater likelihood of diminished feelings of appreciation by both partners.
Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School examined the impact of sleep on the sexual behavior of 171 women. These results suggest both a day-to-day and a cumulative relationship between sleep and sexual behavior in women. Not getting enough sleep can put a damper on sexual desire and sexual function in women.
Oh and, as we touched on in this blog, due to adrenaline affecting melatonin production the University of Arizona found that conflict during the day leads to poor sleep at night, which leads to more conflict during the day; it’s a vicious cycle.
Sleep loss means a lowered ability to keep it together
I used to dread going to work on little sleep and I suppose that fact also contributed to poor sleep, the insomnia cycle is vicious like that.
On more than one occasion at work I would struggle to keep awake but ramped up on caffeine I could get through at least one day on very little sleep. I learned to cope – but I had a reduced tolerance level. More than once I ended up crying in the work’s loo not only because at that very moment all I wanted to do was to go to sleep but also because I was painfully conscious that as a freelancer my employer was expecting me to show up and do my best work, every day without fail and I was so far off my best after a poor night’s sleep.
Feeling cranky, volatile, and emotionally sensitive after a poor night of sleep isn’t new news. But what is news is this: up until 2015, no one was really sure what was at the root cause of this emotional escalation following a poor night’s sleep.
The answer came when researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) discovered that it was all the fault of the amygdala (a region of the brain responsible for the detection and evaluation of our environment and our emotions). In short, sleep deprivation affects the amygdala, altering our perception of what is an emotional and what is a neutral event so that in our sleep-deprived state we see everything as emotional and lose our ability to sort out what is and isn’t important. This leads to poor judgement as well as increased anxiety and trips to the loo for a good cry.
I’m absolutely certain my insomnia dented my professional reputation and cost me a client or two.
So what? Prevention Is Better Than Cure!
Reading this, you’ll understand why sleep for me is a HUGE priority. My personal experience of what insomnia has cost me is not something I want to repeat if I can at all help it. It’s why I will go to every length I can to ensure I get a good night’s sleep, every night: prevention is better than cure. I ended up in Sophie’s consulting room at the peak of my insomnia. It was Sophie that got me back to sleep when everything else had failed and in the process made me realise that having a regular, dedicated bedtime routine is absolutely crucial to creating the perfect conditions for a good night’s sleep.
This blog was sparked by the revelation of how much we as a nation spend on coffee as part of our morning ritual. I do find it odd that we invest so much in our morning cuppa as part of our start-the-day routine and yet we’re not that resolute about our evening one. Perhaps this has given you food for thought? I know it has, me.