How sleep affects health
We all do it, we all need it but many do not get enough! Sleep. It is an essential, precious nightly process which allows our body to repair and heal itself. Without it or lacking in it, we turn into grumpy and unfocused semi-humans. Yet, lacking sleep is perhaps more prevalent than once thought – on any given night 40% of us will struggle to get some shut-eye.
The benefits of a good night’s sleep
So why is sleep so important to us? Many claim to get by on just a few hours per night. Yes, sleep is an individual need and the new revised guidelines recommend 7 to 9 hours per night for those aged between 18 and 64. This will vary of course depending on many factors such as career, lifestyle and amount of stimulation.
The main reason why sleep is crucial to us is that each night while we are snoozing some quite amazing developments occur. Resting, repairing, healing and even the creation of new neural pathways to aid the following days learning. This process is as important to us as breathing and eating. Studies have shown that so much as a few hours less than we need can cause poor functioning the next day.
Sleep and stress
A good night’s sleep is connected to decreased stress levels, improved mood, enhanced concentration and has been proven to reduce the occurrence of chronic illness. A lack of sleep on the other hand can cause the following; decreased immune function and an increased chance of catching the common cold. As if that wasn’t bad enough it’s believed that other resulting factors from lack of sleep include being 10 times more likely to suffer from major depression and a heightened risk of developing Type II diabetes and obesity.
So, what is the connection between obesity and sleep? The connecting factor is an appetite suppressing hormone called leptin. This is an important hormone which prevents us from over-eating. However, when we suffer from several nights with a disturbed sleep pattern this hormone level is decreased resulting in us consuming more calories than we actually need.
What is micro sleep
Another surprising factor connected to lack of sleep is something called micro sleep. This can happen to us, for example, the day after we have not met our full sleep requirements. Have you ever been in a meeting or university lecture and left unable to recall anything? Chances are you will have experienced this – it is when our brain becomes unaware of our surroundings even though there is a stimulus there.
“…a disturbed sleep pattern can result in us consuming more calories than we actually need.”
If micro sleep happens at a meeting it may be frustrating. However, if it occurs while driving for example, your response time may not be as rapid. Therefore, micro sleep can be a definite hazard and if it is occurring frequently a doctor’s advice should be sought.
Indulge in sleep hygiene
How can we support ourselves in promoting a good night’s sleep then? There are various courses of action we can take to help ourselves get some quality sleep including the following; sleep hygiene and routines. Sleep hygiene refers to the temperature of the bedroom, the comfort of the mattress and the noise level. Routines can be your level of caffeine consumption and external stimuli.
Tackling sleep hygiene and routines should not be underestimated on the positive impact they may have on the quality of sleep. You are in control of these matters so you may switch to herbal tea and get a memory foam mattress and notice significant results. Or, you may close your iPad an hour earlier and invest in some ear plugs if you live in the inner city where traffic is abundant.
Ditch the caffeine
So there are many steps we can take to ensure some sleep for ourselves. This can be very effective, however, for many people it is a constant struggle and sleep deprivation is the negative outcome of this. Many will have given up caffeine, have optimal bedroom comfort and still be unable to get more than a few hours of sleep. Insomnia is difficult to cope with and sleep deprivation can have long term damaging consequences.
“Sleep hygiene refers to the temperature of the bedroom, the comfort of the mattress and the noise level. Routines can be your level of caffeine consumption and external stimuli.”
What solutions should we turn to if we have insomnia or sleep disturbances? If the problem does not improve through a change of sleep hygiene or routine then a doctor’s consultation should follow. Sleeping pills can be effective but are not considered to be a long term answer.
Recent research has demonstrated that a therapy referred to as CBT-I can be extremely effective for insomnia sufferers. This therapy is considered to work as it addresses the source and underlying cause of the inability to get to sleep. So although perhaps time consuming and pricey if not followed on the NHS it may be well worth it.
Sleep is not only vital to enable rest and recuperation but also to allow us to function to our full potential. We spend a remarkable third of our lives in the land of nod! So, let’s get the best possible sleep we can.