Sleep is essential to human survival. We all know that, its basic common sense right?
Those precious hours in between night and day allow our bodies the time to repair from any strenuous activities and time to replenish itself for the day ahead.
Of course, in an ideal world, we’d all be trotting off to bed at 10pm on the dot, falling asleep within a matter of minutes, and enjoying eight full hours of glorious, uninterrupted sleep.
Sadly for many, this is a frankly laughable scenario, with stress relating to work, health, personal matters, and finance making it impossible to switch off for hours after hitting the hay, if at all.
If you’ve ever found yourself looking in the mirror after yet another night of tossing and turning, and found it hard to recognise the person with dark under-eye circles and a pale or gaunt expression looking back at you, we’d like to introduce you to Leah.
Leah, which appropriately derives from the Hebrew word for ‘weary’, offers up a visual representation of the short and long term effects that a lack of sleep can have on not only our external physical appearance but also our internal health.
Think of Leah as an early warning sign, as a reminder to you that no matter what personal events or issues you may be experiencing, you owe it to your body and your health to seek out help and advice when sleepless nights become a common occurrence.
What is Insomnia?
So, before we go into the specifics of how exactly regular sleepless nights could be damaging for our bodies and talk you through Leah and her symptoms, it’s probably wise to look at what exactly we mean by ‘insomnia’.
How exactly do professionals determine if one is suffering from insomnia as opposed to the occasional sleepless night? (which we can ALL experience from time to time).
Due to how scary and medical the condition can often sound, many may be understandably wary of categorising themselves as an ‘insomniac’ and would prefer to class themselves as ‘light sleepers’. You might therefore be surprised to discover as many as one-third of UK adults suffer with the condition, a figure which increases to more than half in those aged 65 and over.
According to sleep.org, there are three telltale signs that professionals will use to diagnose a case of insomnia:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep
- Poor sleep quality
A case of insomnia is considered ‘chronic’ when an individual experiences difficulty falling or staying asleep for at least three nights a week for three months or more. If you’ve been dealing with any of the above points and suffering in silence for months on end, it’s definitely worth exploring your options in order to regain a healthier sleep routine.
Who is Most at Risk of Suffering With Insomnia?
Unfortunately, no one is immune to insomnia, with sufferers ranging from children all the way up to senior citizens, as we briefly touched upon above.
That being said, it’s important to bear in mind that there are certain lifestyle factors and health conditions that can trigger bouts of insomnia, or make us more prone to suffering with it:
If you’re prone to bouts of insomnia, the first port of call in your attempts to deal with the issue should be an assessment of your diet. Drinks that are high in caffeine, such as coffee, tea, coca-cola and other caffeinated drinks are stimulants that, if consumed too late into the day, can keep you awake late into the night.
Lack of physical activity
It might seem pretty obvious, but participating in moderate exercise on a regular basis can help relieve some of the stress or tension that you might’ve built up during the day. Gentle aerobic activity that increases your heart rate, such as long walks or swimming, are both highly recommended in order to improve sleep quality. However, you should avoid any vigorous activities (such as a gym session or running) too close to bedtime, as this could have an adverse affect and end up keeping you awake.
Whether related to money, work, relationships or health, concerns that are playing heavy on your mind and causing you worry during the day are likely to keep your mind active at night and prevent you from falling asleep. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders are also often linked with insomnia.
Women are statistically more likely to develop insomnia than men, as hormonal changes and the onset of menopause can interfere with the body's sleep cycle and make it harder for members of the fairer sex to drift off at night.
Overusing electronic devices
It can be all too tempting to scroll through social media or watch a Netflix series during the evenings when sleep doesn’t come naturally, but fixing your eyes on a screen that emits artificial light whilst waiting to drift off can do you more harm than good. Exposure to such light overstimulates your brain and delays the production of the sleep hormone melatonin which actually keeps you awake for longer.
Let’s Meet Leah
Now that we’ve looked into what insomnia is, and some of the ways that it can be triggered, it’s time to meet our insomnia sufferer Leah and understand a little more about the consequences of the condition, both short and long-term.
Here at OTTY, we have teamed up with sleep and insomnia expert, Hussain Abdeh. Hussain is the Clinical Director and Superintendent Pharmacist at Medicine Direct, who regularly treats sleep disorders and insomnia,
We took Hussain's expert analysis of what would happen to the body after 24 hours, 72 hours, one week and one month of poor quality sleep, and used it to create a series of CGI designs (otherwise known as Leah) aimed to shock individuals into the serious consequences of not dealing with sleep issues as soon as possible.
What are the Effects of Insomnia After 24 Hours?
- After 24 hours of little-to-no sleep, Leah will really begin to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. Her brain will start to shut down and it will be difficult to function normally on everyday tasks.
- She will become extremely drowsy and irritable, and stress levels will begin to rise. She is likely to become angry or short tempered at the smallest of matters.
- Leah may also fall victim to decreased alertness, making her more prone to clumsiness and potentially dangerous accidents.
“When the body goes without sleep for 24 hours, it can result in a wide range of adverse symptoms. The most obvious one is drowsiness.Your brain will be functioning at a slower rate, meaning you will struggle to concentrate.
“The most noticeable and common physical symptom to appear after being deprived of sleep for 24 hours is puffiness around the eyes as a result of a water imbalance. You will also very likely get dark circles (‘bags’) under the eyes. This is due to the blood vessels dilating.
“Sex drive can also plummet after just 24 hours of sleep deprivation, due to being too exhausted to feel aroused.
“Because your body is struggling to cope with exhaustion, you will likely have an increased muscle tension, which can cause tremors.”
What are the Effects of Insomnia After 72 Hours?
- After three days of little-to-no sleep, the side effects from sleep deprivation will become more dangerous for Leah and her health.
- Her mind will go into a state of dysphoria and she may well start hallucinating. The physical effects will start damaging her body, and it could even become difficult for her to walk or move.
- Leah’s memory will become impaired, and she will have difficulty learning new information or even making decisions.
- Her alertness will decrease and she will start to experience slower reaction times, making her prone to certain dangerous situations if driving or operating potentially lethal machinery or equipment.
“Microsleep can occur after around 36 hours of sleep deprivation. This is when you fall asleep for extremely short periods of time.
“After 72 hours, microsleep can become a serious problem and occur very regularly. They will also likely last for longer lengths of time.
“Complex hallucinations may also arise after such a long time without sleeping. You may see things that are not there or have seriously impaired vision.
“Depersonalisation, where you feel detached from your own body with no control, can also occur.
“You may experience a great deal of pain due to the body aching from tiredness. Muscle contractions may become worse, and your eyes will also ache from not being able to rest properly.
“Other typical symptoms are paleness of the skin with blood vessels starting to constrict in order to save energy.
“Not sleeping for 72 hours can have a detrimental impact on your emotions. You may experience depression and paranoia due to an impaired sense of perception.”
What are the Effects of Insomnia After Seven Days?
- At this point, Leah would be in serious trouble, as most people struggle to stay alive after one week of poor sleep.
- Her body will be extremely weak, and the brain will be hallucinating in extreme states of paranoia. The skin will also begin to suffer greatly from the effects of sleep deprivation.
- Leah’s need for sleep will feel uncontrollable one week in. Her perception of reality will be distorted to the point where she may have lost a grip on reality altogether and she could begin to suffer from sleep deprivation psychosis.
“Such a lengthy period of time without sleep can cause a lot of stress to the body. Chronic stress can have an impact on the quality of the collagen your body produces.
“Collagen is vital for keeping your skin stretchy and youthful; when it is broken down, your skin becomes thinner and shows more prominent signs of ageing, causing wrinkles.
“When you sleep, your body sweats more; this is so it can re-balance its hydration levels and recover excess moisture. Getting enough sleep plays a pivotal part in keeping your skin smooth and wrinkle-free.
‘Depriving your body of sleep for such a long time will affect the moisture levels in your skin, lowering its PH levels. As a result, your skin will be drier due to not being able to produce the moisture it needs, resulting in wrinkles.”
What are the Effects of Insomnia After a Month?
- Whilst it is not possible to stay alive for a month without sleep. If Leah spends a month surviving solely on microsleep, this can also be extremely dangerous.
- Physically, Leah’s body will change, with extreme weight loss and profuse sweating drastically changing the appearance of her body.
“If this has continued for a month or longer, it is a good sign that you have a chronic sleep problem. Some of the issues you can experience after a short time without sleep can be harmful enough, but not getting any sleep for a month can put you at risk of serious health problems. The body is likely to experience the following complications:
- Rapid weight loss
- Panic attacks, dementia and hallucinations
- Profuse sweating, miosis (very small pupils)
- Sudden menopause for women and Impotence for men
- Constipation as the body desperately tries to retain energy
“Such a long period of time without sleep can wear your body down to the point where your immune system can no longer function properly.
“This can put you at an increased risk of various health conditions, including strokes, heart disease, high blood pressure, mental illnesses and type-2 diabetes.
“You are also likely to experience microsleep for longer and more frequent periods. It would not be unusual for you to collapse.”
How Does Insomnia Affect the Body?
As we’ve already learnt, many illnesses are linked to sleep deprivation.
To understand which symptoms are plaguing insomniacs the most, we’ve analysed search data from Ahrefs to reveal the most common searches associated with sleep deprivation, both in the UK and across the world.
In the UK, depression is the most commonly looked up symptom of insomnia, with 104,000 search results a month. Sleep and depression have a deeply complex relationship that can become a vicious cycle in some cases. People with depression often have difficulty sleeping, or trouble staying asleep. Lack of sleep can also contribute to a person feeling depressed or even contribute to someone developing depression.
The second most prevalent result was for tremors, sometimes referred to as ‘sleep myoclonus’, with 22,000 searches a month. This is a common condition in which the muscles involuntarily jerk or spasm when a person is falling asleep. People suffering extensively from the condition may experience poor sleep quality, which can lead to extreme daytime fatigue.
Paranoia comes in third, with 19,000 searches a month. People who experience prolonged periods of limited sleep may become disoriented and believe that someone is out to get them. Hallucinations are fourth on the list, at 12,000 searches a month. This can be common for those suffering from extreme sleep loss as sufferers may have difficulty registering the passage of time or even distinguishing between their own reality and what’s actually happening.
Physical problems such as dry skin, paleness and eye pain are also all associated with insomnia and searched for thousands of times each month.
Elsewhere, depression is the most commonly looked up symptom related to insomnia around the globe, with 1,300,000 searches per month. Paranoia comes in second with 331,000 searches a month globally, followed by tremors with 265,000.
Late Night Scrolling: What are People Googling to Help Them Sleep?
With millions struggling to sleep, irritated Brits are predictably turning to Google in order to locate some much-needed answers to their sleep issues:
For example, In the UK, 50 people every month are searching for “how to make yourself less tired”, with 100 searching the question globally.
Google search results also show that some people are looking for tips to stay awake throughout the night, which isn’t recommended. The query “How to pull an all-nighter” has 500 search results a month in the UK, and 6,300 globally, whilst “How to stay up all night” has 450 UK, and 6,700 global searches.
Whilst we hope meeting Leah and understanding a little more about the condition of insomnia has been beneficial and insightful; insomniacs, or those who believe they may be suffering from insomnia, are encouraged to seek out medical advice.
Visit your GP to receive a professional opinion on how to treat the disorder, especially if you find it intervening with your everyday life and day-to-day tasks, or that you are putting yourself or others at risk.
For those suffering with occasional bouts of sleeplessness, compiled below are some simple steps that anyone can try in order to enjoy a more peaceful and undisturbed night of rest.
OTTY’s Top Tips to Improve Sleep Quality:
- Good sleep hygiene can make a big difference. Having a clean, comfortable bed that supports your body will make it easier for you to relax and wind down each night.
- If it is not already part of your daily routine, ensuring you exercise for between 20-30 minutes each day can do wonders for preparing your body for rest. If possible, try to plan your work-out at least 5-6 hours before bed, as exercising too late into the night can impair sleep quality.
- Increase your bright light exposure during the day, and reduce it in the evening. This means getting out in the sun and being in rooms with bright lighting. This will help regulate your circadian rhythm, which allows your body to know when to switch off and fall asleep.
- Make sure to avoid coffee, tea and cola drinks in the evenings, as caffeine can stay in the bloodstream for up to 8 hours. Instead, drink plenty of water in the evenings to hydrate your body and prevent thirst from waking you up during the night..
- Certain supplements are beneficial for those struggling to switch off and maintain a good quality of sleep. Melatonin, magnesium and glycine are all popular choices that can improve sleep and help the body to relax.
- It might seem counter-productive due to the short-term effects of drinking, but cutting down on your alcohol intake will help your ability to sleep moving forwards. Alcohol can affect your melatonin production, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep.
- The temperature of your bedroom environment can play a significant part in how well, or badly, you sleep at night. Regulate the temperature of a room by keeping blinds or curtains closed during hot days to avoid the sun overheating your room. Adding a fan to your bedside table can also be beneficial during hot weather.
- Try to set your body an internal alarm clock by sticking to a strict bedtime and rise routine. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day will help your body acclimate, helping it to recognise when it should be active, and when it’s time for rest.
- Avoid hot or spicy foods that can aggravate your body and interfere with your sleep quality. Spicy foods can raise your body temperature which can make it difficult to get comfortable.
- As much as a daytime snooze might be tempting after a previous night of tossing and turning, it's recommended that those suffering from insomnia should avoid the lure of an afternoon nap. If the nap lasts too long then it could lead to a vicious cycle of not being able to sleep again the following night.
Taking the sleepless symptoms provided by Hussain Abdeh, we found out the search volumes and locations searching for these symptoms the most using AHREFs and Google Trends.