Scientists have discovered that sleeping less than eight hours sleep a night carries a huge health risk

Scientists have discovered that sleeping less than eight hours sleep a night carries a huge health risk

If you could take a pill that would eliminate the need for sleep, would you take it? Imagine never feeling tired ever again. Imagine nights out that never have to end and the vast amount of free time that you'll have to enjoy. Since we spend, on average, a third of our lives asleep, this pill would basically give us 33 per cent of our life expectancy back.

But I just don't buy it. I can't explain why, but something about the concept just rubs me up the wrong way. Maybe that's because, for me, sleep isn't a chore or an inconvenience - something distracting me from better things. It's a pleasure, a great pleasure, to be able to switch off and rest, either by ourselves or snuggled up next to someone special. Sleep is the death of each day, a time in which we are able to take stock of events and process our experiences. And of course, without sleep, how could we dream?

For these reasons, I think I would refuse the pill, and continue my nightly forays into the land of nod. Furthermore, new research seems to prove that I was right all along. In fact, missing out on a full eight hours could incur some pretty serious health risks later on down the line.

Researchers from Binghamton University have discovered that people who regularly miss out on eight hours of sleep are actually more likely to suffer from a range of mental health problems associated with intrusive thoughts, depression, anxiety and other destabilising mood disorders. Together, professor Meredith Coles and former graduate student Jacob Nota asked 52 people who reported that they were persistently plagued by worrying, anxiety-inducing thoughts about how much sleep they managed to get on average. The participants were then shown a number of different images, designed to trigger a variety of emotional responses, including elation, shock, fear and sadness. Cole and Nota recorded them, and then carefully noted their eye movements while the participants reacted to the pictures.

The two researchers found out that the people who slept less overall, or whose sleep pattern was often interrupted, found it more difficult to shift their attention away from the negative images.

The paper's abstract noted that "Shorter habitual sleep duration was associated with more time looking at emotionally negative compared to neutral images during a free-viewing attention task and more difficulty disengaging attention from negative compared to neutral images during a directed attention task. In addition, longer sleep onset latencies were also associated with difficulty disengaging attention from negative stimuli. The relations between sleep and attention for positive images were not statistically significant." Their findings were published in the journal of the The National Centre for Biotechnology Information.Meredith Coles herself commented: "We found that people in this study have some tendencies to have thoughts get stuck in their heads, and their elevated negative thinking makes it difficult for them to disengage with the negative stimuli that we exposed them to. While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it."

She added: "These negative thoughts are believed to leave people vulnerable to different types of psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression ... We realised over time that this might be important - this repetitive negative thinking is relevant to several different disorders like anxiety, depression and many other things.This is novel in that we're exploring the overlap between sleep disruptions and the way they affect these basic processes that help in ignoring those obsessive negative thoughts."

But depression and anxiety aren't the only health dangers that bedbugs will avoid. Previous scientific studies have also shown a correlation between lack of sleep and a weakened immune system, high fat and cholesterol, a loss of sex drive, mood swings, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even certain forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, later on in life. More worrying still is the fact that fewer and fewer people are getting the requisite eight hours of slumber. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night, and anywhere between 50 million to 70 million people suffer from sleep disorders, including sleep apnea and insomnia. So next time someone accuses you of being lazy, just fluff your pillows, hit the snooze button and keep your eyes shut. After all, it's for your own good.