SLEEP – why we need it and what happens when we don’t get enough!
Sleep – it’s one topic of conversation for parents, work colleagues and friends alike that everyone can have input in. It can determine so much of the quality of our day-to-day functioning. Sleeping well can make us feel more alert, energised and better able to concentrate and perform our daily tasks, whereas poor sleep leaves us tired, anergic, unable to concentrate, and prone to accidents, especially while driving.
If you’ve ever spent a night tossing and turning, you’ll know that the outcome can be a day feeling groggy with brain fog… and a touch of grumpiness to match. Getting enough sleep each day is one of the most important things you can do for your health and wellbeing.
What happens when we sleep?
While we sleep, our body recovers and repairs. Without enough sleep we are more likely to have problems with thinking, memory, reaction times and mood, all of which make it harder to perform our daily tasks and increase the risks of mistakes and accidents.
“Lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation, can cause fatigue, poor concentration and memory, mood disturbances, impaired judgement and reaction time, and poor physical coordination.” Shares Better Health Network
Having poor sleep regularly, or sleep deprivation, can contribute to long-term health problems such as:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Reduced libido
- Lowered immunity to disease
Sleep cycles and our “body clock”
Sleep consists of different periods of light and deep sleep across the night, occurring in cycles of around 60 – 90 minutes. Each cycle includes non-REM sleep (which includes both light and deep sleep) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep when our brains are more active. We’ve also known to dream during REM sleep.
Too much daytime napping, stress, and screen time can affect our body clock and make it difficult to fall and to stay asleep. However, a short daytime nap of 20 minutes or less can be appropriate for some, particularly those used to having a “siesta” in the afternoon.
Getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis can eventually lead to unhealthy consequences, such as lowered alertness, poor attention span, reduced concentration, poor judgement, forgetfulness and reduced awareness, among others.
Signs of sleep deprivation include:
- excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue
- frequent yawning
- itchy burning eyes
- restless legs
While we sleep, the body releases useful hormones, reduces stress hormone levels, and releases immune proteins, which help to fight inflammation and infection. Sleep deprivation can impair the immune system, interfering with its ability to protect the body.
Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain by reducing the level of Leptin, a hormone that regulates hunger by providing the sensation of satiety (feeling full). At the same time, levels of the hormone Ghrelin (which stimulates appetite) rise in acute sleep deprivation. So sleep deprivation makes us feel hungrier and can lead to night time snacking.
Treatment for sleep deprivation
The best way to treat sleep deprivation is to get an adequate amount of sleep, ideally between 7 and 9 hours per night.
This is often easier said than done, especially if you’ve been deprived for several weeks or longer. After this point, you may need help from your doctor or a sleep specialist who, if needed, can diagnose and treat a possible sleep disorder.
The following are some of the most common types of sleep disorders:
If you’re diagnosed with a sleep disorder, you may be given medication or a device to keep your airway open at night (in the case of obstructive sleep apnoea) to help combat the disorder so you can get a better night’s sleep on a regular basis.
The best way to prevent sleep deprivation is to make sure you get adequate sleep. The recommended guidelines are 7 to 9 hours for most adults. Recommendations vary for children depending on their age.
Other ways you can get back on track with a healthy sleep schedule include:
- limiting or avoiding daytime naps (maximum 20 minutes)
- refraining from caffeine past midday and reducing your alcohol intake
- going to bed at the same time each night, even on holidays and weekends as much as possible – your body needs to find it’s rhythm again!
- waking up at the same time every morning
- spending an hour before bed doing relaxing activities, such as reading, meditating, or taking a bath
- avoiding heavy meals within a few hours before bedtime
- turning off those electronic devices well before bed
- exercising regularly, but not close to bedtime
If you are concerned about your sleep, or any symptoms associated with lack of sleep, speak to your GP. They’re here to help.
Book online to see your supportive GP who can assist you in making your health, your priority. BOOK ONLINE or call 03 9363 0954.