Sufficient sleep is an often overlooked essential for optimal health and well-being. Yet a lot of people do not get enough sleep and many suffer from lack of sleep. The results of recent surveys reveal that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Most of those with these problems go undiagnosed and untreated.
In addition, more than 40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each week.
CAUSES OF SLEEPLESSNESS
Psychologists and other scientists who study the causes of sleep disorders have found that such problems can directly or indirectly be tied to abnormalities in various systems, such as: Physiological systems
- Brain and nervous system
- Cardiovascular system
- Metabolic functions
- Immune system
Furthermore, unhealthy conditions, disorders and diseases can also cause sleep problems. These can include:
- Pathological sleepiness, insomnia and accidents
- Hypertension and elevated cardiovascular risks (MI, stroke)
- Emotional disorders (depression, bipolar disorder)
- Obesity; metabolic syndrome and diabetes
- Alcohol and drug abuse
Groups that are at particular risk for sleep deprivation include night shift workers, physicians (average sleep = 6.5 hours a day; residents = 5 hours a day), truck drivers, parents and teenagers.
HOW ENVIRONMENT & BEHAVIOR AFFECT A PERSON’S SLEEP
Stress is the number one cause of short-term sleeping difficulties, according to sleep experts. Common triggers include school or job-related pressures, a family or marriage problem and a serious illness or death in the family. Usually the sleep problem disappears when the stressful situation passes. However, if short-term sleep problems such as insomnia aren’t managed properly from the beginning, they can persist long after the original stress has passed.
Drinking alcohol or beverages containing caffeine in the afternoon or evening, exercising close to bedtime, following an irregular morning and nighttime schedule, and working or doing other mentally intense activities right before or after getting into bed can disrupt sleep. Traveling also disrupts sleep, especially jet lag and traveling across several time zones. This can upset your biological or “circadian” rhythms.
Environmental factors such as a room that’s too hot or cold, too noisy or too brightly lit can be a barrier to sound sleep. Interruptions from children or other family members can also disrupt sleep. Other influences to pay attention to are the comfort and size of your bed and the habits of your sleep partner. If you have to lie beside someone who has different sleep preferences, snores, can’t fall or stay asleep, or has other sleep difficulties, it often becomes your problem too!
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO I NEED?
The amount of sleep you need each day will change over the course of your life. Although sleep needs vary from person to person, the chart below shows general recommendations for different age groups.
||Recommended Amount of Sleep
||16–18 hours a day
||11–12 hours a day
||At least 10 hours a day
||9–10 hours a day
| AduIts (including the elderly)
||7–8 hours a day
If you routinely lose sleep or choose to sleep less than needed, the sleep loss adds up. The total sleep lost is called your sleep debt. For example, if you lose 2 hours of sleep each night, you’ll have a sleep debt of 14 hours after a week.
Some people nap as a way to deal with sleepiness. Naps may provide a short-term boost in alertness and performance. However, napping doesn’t provide all of the other benefits of night-time sleep. Thus, you can’t really make up for lost sleep.
Some people sleep more on their days off than on work days. They also may go to bed later and get up later on days off.
Sleeping more on days off might be a sign that you aren’t getting enough sleep. Although extra sleep on days off might help you feel better, it can upset your body’s sleep–wake rhythm.
Bad sleep habits and long-term sleep loss will affect your health. If you’re worried about whether you’re getting enough sleep, try using a sleep diary for a couple of weeks.
Sleeping when your body is ready to sleep also is very important. Sleep deficiency can affect people even when they sleep the total number of hours recommended for their age group.
For example, people whose sleep is out of sync with their body clocks (such as shift workers) or routinely interrupted (such as caregivers or emergency responders) might need to pay special attention to their sleep needs.
If your job or daily routine limits your ability to get enough sleep or sleep at the right times, talk with your doctor. You also should talk with your doctor if you sleep more than 8 hours a night, but don’t feel well rested. You may have a sleep disorder or other health problem.
PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH LACK OF SLEEP
- Lack of Sleep Slows Down Your Mind
Even just one night of insufficient sleep can heavily impact on your alertness, attention span, concentration and problem solving capabilities the next day. People who regularly do not get enough sleep, particularly when they’re young, could be negatively affecting their intelligence levels and overall mental development.
- Higher Risk of Accidents
Research has shown that issues with sleeping leads to more injuries on the job and a higher chance of traffic accidents. So when you don’t get enough rest and you drive the next day, you’re not just a risk to yourself, but to others as well.
Being tired behind the wheel can be just as dangerous as being drunk and the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that driver fatigue is the cause or significant factor in more than 100,000 car crashes and in over 1,500 road related deaths a year.
- Heart Disease and Diabetes
People suffering from insomnia are considered to have a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack. In fact, a recent study published in the European Heart Journal found that those experiencing trouble falling asleep, problems staying asleep and not waking up feeling rested in the morning are three times more likely to develop heart failure over an 11 year period.
Diabetes has also been strongly linked to insomnia and lack of sleep. Though there is a valid question to be raised as to whether the prediabetic condition could be contributing to sleeplessness in the first place. It’s very important to visit a doctor and have the simple test if you experience extreme thirst, regular tingling in your hands and feet, blurred vision or constant fatigue, even after a good night’s rest, as these are possible indicators of diabetes.
- Missing out on Sleep Can Make You Fat
Regularly sleeping less than six hours a night has been shown to increase hunger and appetite, particularly for high carbohydrate foods that promote excessive insulin secretion and lead to body fat storage.
One study found that those who slept less than six hours regularly were nearly 30% more likely to become obese than those who slept between seven and nine hours. Interestingly, after nine hours the benefits of sleep are actually reversed in the weight loss area so this may be an indication of the optimal resting time.
- Insomnia Ages You
Most of us know that we don’t look our best after a very late night, but sleeplessness can have longer-term aging affects as well. When we are tired we tend to run on cortisol, the stress hormone. High levels of cortisol have been shown to break down the collagen proteins that ‘glue’ your skin cells together, leading to fine lines, poor tone and wrinkles.
Deep sleep is also needed to repair your skin and release optimal amounts of human growth hormone which affects, amongst other things, the firmness of your skin and the tone of the muscles underneath it.
- Sleeplessness Affects Memory
During sleep the things you’ve learnt and the experiences you’ve had during the day are believed to be organized in your mind properly for future access. If you don’t get enough sleep tonight you may have trouble remembering clearly what you experienced today in the near future.
- Depression and Sleep
Insomnia is also linked to developing depression. Some research has found that people who regularly reported an inability to sleep were five times more likely to develop symptoms of depression. There is again a question as to whether depression led to the sleep loss or vice versa. Regardless, getting a good amount of sleep is considered vital in treating depression effectively.
HOW TO GET ENOUGH SLEEP
You can take steps to improve your sleep habits. First, make sure that you allow yourself enough time to sleep. With enough sleep each night, you may find that you’re happier and more productive during the day.
Sleep often is the first thing that busy people squeeze out of their schedules. Making time to sleep will help you protect your health and well-being now and in the future.
To improve your sleep habits, it also may help to:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. For children, have a set bedtime and a bedtime routine. Don’t use the child’s bedroom for timeouts or punishment.
- Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep–wake rhythm.
- Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
- Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (Having a light snack is okay.) Also, avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
- Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and both substances can interfere with sleep.
- Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a dim night light is fine, if needed).
- Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.
BENEFITS/IMPORTANCE OF SUFFICIENT SLEEP
Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.
The way you feel while you’re awake depends in part on what happens while you’re sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.
The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.
Healthy Brain Function and Emotional Well-Being
Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information.
Studies show that a good night’s sleep improves learning. Whether you’re learning math, how to play the piano, how to perfect your golf swing, or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.
Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.
Children and teens who are sleep deficient may have problems getting along with others. They may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation. They also may have problems paying attention, and they may get lower grades and feel stressed.
Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
The deficiency of sleep also increases the risk of obesity. For example, one study of teenagers showed that with each hour of sleep lost, the odds of becoming obese went up. Sleep deficiency increases the risk of obesity in other age groups as well.
Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested.
Sufficient sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.
Sleep also supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens, and adults. Sleep also plays a role in puberty and fertility.
Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. This system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances. Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds. For example, if you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble fighting common infections.
Daytime Performance and Safety
Getting enough quality sleep at the right times helps you function well throughout the day. People who are sleep deficient are less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes.
After several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night—your ability to function suffers as if you haven’t slept at all for a day or two.
Lack of sleep also may lead to microsleep. Microsleep refers to brief moments of sleep that occur when you’re normally awake.
You can’t control microsleep, and you might not be aware of it. For example, have you ever driven somewhere and then not remembered part of the trip? If so, you may have experienced microsleep.
Even if you’re not driving, microsleep can affect how you function. If you’re listening to a lecture, for example, you might miss some of the information or feel like you don’t understand the point. In reality, though, you may have slept through part of the lecture and not been aware of it.
Some people aren’t aware of the risks of sleep deficiency. In fact, they may not even realize that they’re sleep deficient. Even with limited or poor-quality sleep, they may still think that they can function well.
For example, drowsy drivers may feel capable of driving. Yet, studies show that sleep deficiency harms your driving ability as much as, or more than, being drunk. It’s estimated that driver sleepiness is a factor in about 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths.
Drivers aren’t the only ones affected by sleep deficiency. It can affect people in all lines of work, including health care workers, pilots, students, lawyers, mechanics, and assembly line workers.
As a result, sleep deficiency is not only harmful on a personal level, but it also can cause large-scale damage. For example, sleep deficiency has played a role in human errors linked to tragic accidents, such as nuclear reactor meltdowns, grounding of large ships, and aviation accidents.
- More Alertness and Energy
Ditch the coffee first thing and just get a good night’s sleep. Waking up properly rested will greatly increase your energy levels, alertness and ability to concentrate.
- Less Stress
In a related benefit of sleep, a well rested body generally produces less of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Sleep at the end of the day is also needed to reduce cortisol levels with other hormones like serotonin. This makes getting to bed doubly important for minimizing stress in your life.
- Greater Immunity and Less Disease
Your immune system that deals with invading pathogens and problems within your body needs proper sleep to work efficiently. Insomnia can heavily depress the immune system and leave a person vulnerable to various diseases and longer-term health problems. Conversely, extra sleep can help you recover from illness more quickly.
- Maintenance and Body Repair
During sleep your body repairs itself from all the damaging dietary and environmental pollutants that our modern world exposes it to each day. At a cellular level you’ll start to run less efficiently the longer you go without proper rest.
- Sleep Makes You Smarter
While your performance will probably suffer in areas where you need to use your brain, like tests or complex work projects, if you don’t get enough sleep, the opposite is true when you do.
A full night’s sleep organizes and makes connections within your mind to the information you received during the day. If you have a big test the next day probably the worst thing you could do is stay up all night studying for it as you’ll be unlikely to remember it well. To be at your best, do your main studying earlier in the week and get an early night before an exam or an important day at work.
- Weight Loss and Rest
Getting to bed a bit earlier and getting a good night’s sleep can balance out the hormone fluctuations that provoke appetite. In fact, having proper rest is one of the best things you can do for losing weight. By ditching late-night TV, you’ll also have the added benefit of dodging one of those diet destroying late-night junk food binges as well.
- Sleep Improves Happiness
Sleeping allows your brain time to get back into balance all of the necessary chemicals and hormones that affect your mental clarity, mood and emotions and are so important for being calm, relaxed and happy.
With lack of sleep so strongly associated with depression and mental illness, it’s not hard to see how getting an early night and some deep sleep can lead to a better day tomorrow.
SOURCES: www.healthambition.com, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov, www.shapefit.com