Rising on my tiptoes, clasping a family-sized bottle of pasta sauce, I stretch up to the top shelf of my kitchen cupboard and gently push the jar into place — a move I have accomplished innumerable times before.
But a nano-second after my fingertips leave the side of the jar, it tips over and smashes onto the worktop, breaking into pieces and squirts tomato sauce all over.
Yes, it’s irritating when accidents occur, but I am bugged by my response — because I burst into tears of despair. To aggravate my despondency, I glimpse myself in the mirror. A worn out, patchy-looking face glares back.
I look much older than my actual age. I am 46. I have dark circles under my eyes and my skin is
my skin is drab, with pores so enlarged I can see them from a distance. What’s more, a couple of spots are beginning to develop on my chin.
Making matters worse, I’ve been forgetful, as well as clumsy and easily upset, lately. And all because I am sleeping just six hours in the night — like many other women do.
Yes. we women are juggling work, children and social lives, and due to that the average amount of sleep we’re getting has declined in recent years
One-third of Britons today get no more than five to six hours sleep a day. It sounds pathetic!
I had no idea that curtailing sleep by merely an hour or two a night could have such a devastating effect on everything from my concentration, memory and patience to skin tone.
Nonetheless that’s exactly what I found out within days of starting a fascinating experiment with me as a guinea pig.
‘It is the physical equivalent of keeping driving your car over a pothole, day after day,’ says Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, of the London Sleep Centre in Harley Street. ‘Your car gets more and more damaged the longer you do it, just as your body becomes more and more damaged the longer you deprive it of sleep.’
Apart from the pasta sauce incident, I noticed I was getting irritable with my children at the drop of a hat and I always felt hungry.
6 hours was the amount my older sister told me would allow me to function when I gave birth to my first son.
I stuck to her suggestion because I felt I could cope if I had six hours in total — no matter how broken — in a 24-hour period.
Today when my children have gotten older – I usually get seven or eight hours — and I always sleep in at the weekends.
Occasionally when I am partying late in night with friends, I scrape by on less, always consoling myself that six hours will do. But sleep experts beg to differ.
So I was excited about the idea of participating in a study organised by the London-based Sleep School to find out what impact modern sleeping habits are having on our mind and bodies. I soon realized that six hours actually amounts to long-term sleep deprivation.
Firstly, I was told to spend one night sleeping for barely 4 hours, or 50% of the recommended daily requirement. It was followed by a three-day recovery period. Then I was told to cut my nightly slumber by 25 per cent, to six hours for five consecutive nights — akin to a working week.
The Sleep School carried out a survey on the sleep patterns of 11,000 people, and discovered about half were getting only six hours or fewer sleep per night.
Study of the effects on cognitive performance found a connection between lack of sleep and reduced mental and physical capacity. Other studies corroborated this finding. The results showed a drop of up to 60 per cent in problem-solving ability and 40 per cent in memory recall.
Meanwhile in an another study, scientists in Norway have detected a connection between insomnia and a low pain threshold.
But what I’m worried about is the long-term impact on skin.
‘There’s a reason they call it beauty sleep,’ says sleep physiologist Dr Guy Meadows, founder of the Sleep School. ‘There’s a long-standing association between quality sleep and youthful looks and we are now beginning to understand the relevance in anti-ageing terms.’
Cosmetic dermatologist Dr Anita Sturnham agrees: ‘Lack of sleep can lead to dull, lifeless-looking skin, and a worsening of lines and wrinkles, puffy eyes and dark circles.
Prior to starting my sleep experiment, I had my skin quality analysed by a facial scan to verify redness, texture and pore size. The tests showed I had quite good skin for a Caucasian woman of my age and fewer than average wrinkles.
Now let’s check out what effect cutting back on sleep had on my skin!
For my first night, I slept between 2am and 6am to try to replicate the kinda late night many of us would have if we went to a party then rose for work the next day.
Next morning I woke with the dawn chorus after three hours and ten minutes but managed to snooze again until 6am—-I wobbled downstairs to make a cup of tea. I can’t say I felt refreshed.
As the afternoon closed in, I became forgetful, and even failed to return a phone call as promised.
At 3 in the afternoon, I felt an energy dip like the one you feel with a hangover. But I coped and I felt buoyed up by my ability to keep functioning.
Dr Meadows says this was a typical reaction. ‘A lot of people feel quite alert, almost buzzed, after four hours’ sleep,’ he says.
A second scan of my face showed the areas of redness had increased marginally, my skin texture was poorer and my pores enlarged.
In the second phase of the study, I was to nap six-hours a night for a five-day stretch, with bedtimes at 11pm and my alarm at 5am.
There was to be no daytime napping.
In just two days, I noticed the changes. I was tired, snappy, forgetful and tearful. I felt constantly hungry and craved sweet snacks to pep me up.
The results s of the final scan of my face were even more shocking. My pores had doubled in size and the red areas had increased by 50 per cent. No wonder my husband declared: ‘You look lousy.’
Dr Sturnham opines this is for the reason that my pores are even more blocked by increased oil secretion. ‘Sleep loss causes the body to release too little human growth hormone, which promotes the repair of skin cells,’ she says. ‘What you are seeing is your skin’s inability to heal itself.’
To make matters worse my scan operator warned if I continue with six hours – I would have broken capillaries, as well.
So I have decided from now on I’m going to get the full eight hours — or I fear I will suffer the consequences.