A neuroscientist from the University of Oxford says that lack of sleep is just as bad as smoking.
Professor Russell Foster blames lack of sleep for a number of health problems, and he compares the brain activity of early risers to that of inebriated people.
Foster is the director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, which has called for more people to get to bed early.
Not only does lack of sleep do damage to the brain, he says, but working at night can cause premature aging and is linked to an increased risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and Type II diabetes.
Claims like that are backed up by French research out of the University of Toulouse, which showed that workers who had been on the night shift for 10 years aged by an extra six-and-a-half years compared with those who worked during the day.
Many others, especially in the United States, suffer from various sleep disorders, and they can require everything from pills to CPAP machines to rest easily at night.
Those who boast about getting by on a lack of sleep, Foster says, are the worst culprits of all.
“There certainly is a culture of, well I only had five hours of sleep last night how fantastic am I?” Foster said. “In fact, we should be looking down on those sort of things – in the same way that we frown upon smoking I think we should start to frown upon not taking our sleep seriously.”
Not only can trying to get by on a lack of sleep be dangerous, especially for those who work in industries such as healthcare or transportation, but it also damages “a whole host of skills,” according to Foster.
That goes for early risers, as well. Leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, for instance, only slept four hours per night.
Another study from 2010 out of the University of Warwick found that people who slept for fewer than six hours per night increased their risk of death before the age of 65 by 12%.
Like the French study from 2014, Foster’s research also points to the dangers of working at night and skipping out on a full 40 winks.
“The assumption has always been that you adapt to the nightshift that the body clock will map on to the demands of working at night,” Foster explained. But he says that his study and countless others have found that night-shift workers and early risers don’t adapt and actually do harm to themselves.
People, especially senior citizens, who aren’t sleeping enough can suffer from a lack of empathy, slower processing of information, decreased ability to “handle people,” and be more prone to impulsive behavior and impaired thinking, Foster explained.
That lowered brain function from sleep deprivation is even comparable to being drunk.
“At four o’clock in the morning, our ability to process information is similar to the amount of alcohol that would make us legally drunk – as bad as if we had a few whiskies or beers,” Foster said.