Almost all of us have spent at least a few days in our lives when we have struggled to sleep. All the tossing and turning make us feel cranky and tired. But did you know that lack of sleep does much more than this to your health?
Sleep deprivation puts your physical and mental health at risk. This article addresses this very important issue of understanding sleep better and how to make yourself healthier in the long run.
Is All Sleep The Same?
Adequate diet and exercise are vital when it comes to staying healthy. However, studies show that sleep plays an equally important part. What’s more, not all kinds of sleep are the same. To understand the health benefits of sleep on your body, it is essential to know how your body goes to sleep.
Sleep is much more than just when the body dozes off. Throughout the time that you sleep, your brain cycles through two types of sleep. These are:
1. Non-REM: Known as non-rapid-eye-movement, this is composed of four stages including:
- A stage between being awake and falling asleep.
- Light sleep when your body temperature and breathing get regulated.
- Deep sleep.
2. REM: This stage is known as rapid-eye-movement. When your brain is in this stage, your eyes move rapidly behind your closed lids. In this stage, your brain waves are quite similar to what they are during the time you are awake. During REM, your breathing rate increases, and the body becomes paralyzed and you may begin dreaming.
What Causes Sleep Problems?
Before we talk about the effect of sleep on your health, let’s get to understand some factors that interfere with your ability to enjoy adequate sleep. These include both internal and external factors such as:
- Chronic stress or anxiety
- Having suffered a recent injury or chronic pain
- Changes in work schedule
- Major life changes or trauma
- Improper sleeping environments such as excessive light and fluctuating temperatures
- Consuming stimulants such as alcohol or caffeine
Why Do You Need Adequate Sleep?
Adequate sleep is vital for the functioning of our body. Not getting enough sleep puts you at risk of several health risks. These health risks range from physical to neurological conditions.
According to the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Journal, here is how sleep affects various aspects of your health:
Your immune system is your body’s line of defense against diseases and infections. It is divided into innate and adaptive immunity. This system is made up of white blood cells, also known as leukocytes. They identify and remove foreign pathogens from our body, making it safer for our body to interact with the external environment. When your white blood cells detect pathogens, they release cytokines to prepare for an attack on them.
Besides other aspects of your health, sleep deprivation has a huge impact on your immune function. According to the Pflugers Archiv Journal, the production of cytokines and T-cells peaks during sleep, which has a direct impact on how robust your immunity and in turn general health is.
One of the most common, yet serious, side effects of sleep deprivation is obesity. As the Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care Journal verifies, your sleep modifies important factors that have a direct impact on your weight. Lack of sleep may lead to a decreased tolerance for glucose and insulin and a decrease in the levels of leptin and cortisol, and an increase in your hunger and appetite.
This often leads to changes in body weight due to increased fat storage. And it doesn’t stop here. Obesity is linked to several serious chronic conditions such as cardiovascular problems, type-2 diabetes, and even some types of cancers.
Central Nervous System
Chronic lack of sleep not just affects your physical health, but also your neurological health. When you are sleep deprived, your brain is not able to get rid of the damaged microglial cells. This has a direct impact on your brain’s functioning and may lead to poor judgement difficulty in concentration, mood swings, and reduced productivity at work.
It is also often connected to putting you at risk of neurodegenerative conditions later in life. These conditions include depression, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, etc.
While factors such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise are often connected to a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, the dangers of lack of sleep are also been recognized. When you sleep, your heart rate slows down and your blood pressure stabilizes. This reduces the stress on your heart and it doesn’t allow it to recover from the strain that occurs during the day.
When you experience a chronic lack of sleep, it increases the risk of coronary heart diseases such as atherosclerosis, chronic inflammation, and hypertension and may result in fatalities due to heart attack or stroke.
Though not many people know, sleep and fertility have a stronger connection than you might think. Besides other downsides of lack of sleep, low fertility is also a very real risk that sleep deprivation is linked to. Fertility is directly impacted by certain hormones such as cortisol, leptin, and melatonin.
In women, these hormones directly impact ovulation. Lack of sleep disturbs the levels of these hormones and leads to fertility problems. In men, inadequate sleep may lead to lower sperm count and poor sperm quality. This happens due to the imbalance that lack of sleep causes in the natural testosterone levels.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
The amount of sleep that everyone requires differs basis different factors, especially your age. Other factors include the state of your health, pregnancy, and the quality of sleep that you usually enjoy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an infant between 4-12 months needs to sleep for 12-16 hours. A teenager should sleep+ for at least 8-10 hours and adults between 18-60 years should sleep for 7 or more hours each night.
How Can You Improve Your Sleep Cycle?
The first step towards improving your sleep quality is to recognize that you don’t clock in the requisite hours of sleep. Here are some steps that will help you in improving your sleep cycle:
- Get to the root of the problem and rule out a sleeping disorder such as sleep apnea. Conditions like these are serious and need immediate medical attention.
- Relax your mind before sleeping. You can meditate, read, and listen to soothing music to do that.
- Avoid eating late in the evening. It interferes with your body’s ability to release melatonin, which is a sleep-inducing hormone.
- Have a conducive sleeping environment. Your room must be at an optimal temperature and your bed and mattress must be comfortable. Reduce noise and bright lights.
- Avoid having alcohol or caffeine immediately before bed.
- Ensure that you have a consistent sleeping schedule. This improves your body’s rhythm and impacts long-term sleep quality.
- Daytime naps interfere with an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Still, if you want to rest during the daytime, never nap for more than an hour.
- Include exercise in your routine. Regular physical activity promotes better and sounder sleep.
- If you suffer from stress or anxiety, it is essential to understand the cause and manage them first. Stress management in the form of getting more organized and delegating tasks goes a long way in helping you enjoy a sound sleep.
- Put away your smartphone and tablet at least an hour before you hit the bed.
A single night of diminished sleep can lead to short-term effects such as irritability and tiredness. However, when the sleep problem becomes chronic, you are at a higher risk of systemic diseases and reduced quality of life. Making sleep a priority will go a long way in helping you enjoy a wholesome, happier, and healthier life.