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How Sleep Deprivation Affects Health

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Have you ever been so tired you can’t actually sleep? Or felt so tired that even though you KNOW you need to go to bed, you’re mindlessly flicking through TV channels or Facebook… only to find that another hour has passed and you’re still not in bed yet?

Or perhaps you’ve tried to go to sleep but you have a million things going around your head like a TV set and you just can’t switch off…

Whatever the reason for your lack of sleep, it’s vitally important to understand how sleep deprivation affects health – both short term and long term. In this post, we’ll take you through common sleep issues and problems and how to create great sleep habits and ensure good sleep hygiene for a restful night’s sleep!

What Is Insomnia?

If you can’t sleep, you may be wondering if you have insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia is categorized as ‘difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so.’

If you’re struggling with insomnia, the quality of your sleep can have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Low productivity
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling irritable and grouchy
  • Low mood
  • Poor performance when studying or at work

In addition to these issues, insomnia can also trigger poor food habits and cause your body to crave carbohydrates and sugar. But more about that in a moment…

Acute insomnia is brief and impacted most usually by extreme excitement or stress. This kind of insomnia usually rectifies on its own.

Chronic insomnia is categorized by a regular lack of sleep which means that for at least 3 nights out of 7, you’re struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep. Another characteristic of chronic insomnia is it lasts for at least three months. This is far more dangerous to your health than acute insomnia because it happens over a prolonged period of time.

Chronic insomnia can be due to extended periods of stress, environmental changes, bad sleep habits, medication and medical disorders, hormonal imbalances, and shift work.

Left unchecked, this kind of insomnia can become comorbid, which means it’s linked to another medical or psychiatric issue. Either way, it’s important to get help for this kind of insomnia as prolonged sleep deprivation can have serious health implications including:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Insomnia is NOT just the inability to fall asleep. It’s also the inability to STAY asleep – which is just as important. Therefore, insomnia is further broken down into ONSET and MAINTENANCE.

Those who have difficulty falling asleep is known as onset. Those who have trouble staying asleep is known as maintenance. This can also include waking up too early and then not being able to fall back to sleep again.

Treatment for insomnia should never just be a case of popping pills – which can easily become addictive. Rather, it’s extremely important to fix the underlying cause of the sleeping problems themselves. Taking pills might give you immediate relief, but it’s well-known that side effects cause dizziness, drowsiness and an inability to properly function during the day.

 

Lack of Sleep Means Gaining Weight!

Scientists from the University of Colorado found that just one week of sleeping around 5 hours a night led participants to gain an average of 2lbs in body weight!!

How sleep deprivation affects your health – and especially your weight is a major cause of concern. The hormones which regulate your hunger and appetite no longer function the way they are supposed to.

Sleep deprivation reduces the levels of the hormone leptin. Leptin is responsible for suppressing your appetite and burning up energy. Consequently, sleep deprivation causes the levels of the hormone ghrelin to spike in your body – and this basically causes you to feel hungry even when you’re not.

Because your hormones are all over the place when you’re sleep deprived, they mess up the signals these hormones send to your brain, causing you to feel hungry and crave the wrong kinds of foods. Plus, you eat more than you usually would as well!

Sleep deprivation creates more intense cravings for carbohydrates, fat and sugar-laden foods. When you combine this with the low energy and tiredness you feel from lack of sleep, it’s easy to see why you’d rather reach for a bar of chocolate or eat a takeaway than want to eat something healthy and exercise.

Your body needs energy because you’re so tired, and sugar, carbs, and fats provide an instant source of fuel. Sadly, this leads to a vicious cycle of craving the wrong food, feeling tired from lack of sleep and then craving the food again from lack of energy. It’s a tough cycle to break and can mean you pile a lot of weight on in a very short space of time.

 

Low energy also massively impacts your decision-making process, meaning your brain struggles to make rational decisions about food – so you’re much more likely to reach for junk food.

 

Very often, a person who is struggling to lose weight despite doing all the right things will often find that consistently getting better quality sleep will allow them to shed the weight they’ve previously struggled to get rid of.

 

Quality of Sleep Versus Quantity

Ok so now we understand exactly how sleep deprivation affects health, the next question naturally comes to mind is how much sleep is enough sleep and what can be done about getting better quality sleep?

According to ‘Advancing Better Sleep’, the amount of sleep needed is not fixed per se; rather there are guidelines on the quantity of sleep needed for your age, but actually, as you’ll read in a moment, the quality of your sleep is just as important.  

The average amount of sleep needed by age can be summarized in the table below:

Age Recommended Sleep
Babies under 12 months 16-20 hours
1 to 2 years 14 hours
3 to 4 years 12 hours
5 to 12 years 10 hours
13 to 19 years 9 hours
Adults and seniors 7-8 hours

 

While these are just guidelines, remember that a restful night’s sleep means:

  1. a) Good quality, deep and uninterrupted sleep – getting 8 hours of broken sleep (think new parents!) is NOT the same as 8 hours of deep, restful sleep.
  2. b) You should wake up feeling well-rested and energized – not tired, exhausted and too shattered to function!

Improving the quality of your sleep relies on a few things such as your sleep hygiene, sleep cycles, lifestyle and the amount of stress you are under.

Sleep Cycles

Your body has a natural daily cycle known as the circadian rhythm (cira “about” diem “day). Our natural sleep-wake cycle is approximately 24 hours and is impacted by things like daylight and the night. One of the best ways of helping your body’s rhythm stay regular is by keeping consistent sleep and awake times – even on the weekends.

If your body’s natural circadian rhythm gets thrown off, then this can really impact the quality of your sleep. It’s one of the reasons you also get jet lag – because the body has no idea what’s happening to it.

Sleep itself is split into phases – light sleep and deep sleep. Light sleep is where you move fairly frequently, your muscles are starting to relax, your body is cooling down, and you are lightly dreaming. This represents 60% of sleep.

Deep sleep is split between two phases — deep sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). During deep sleep you hardly move, you rarely dream, and your body is repairing cells, consolidating memories, and building up muscle tissue.

REM sleep means your brain is active and in this phase, dreams can be pretty intense. We’re not very clear on the role of REM sleep, but it’s suggested that memory storage and mood is affected in this phase – and these are things you really don’t want to disrupt.

Combined, deep and REM account for 40% of sleep. Waking during REM sleep means you can recall your dreams.

When your sleep cycle is interrupted and you don’t go through these stages of sleep properly, you feel tired, fatigued, and have trouble concentrating and paying attention while you’re awake. This puts you at a greater risk of having a car accident.

Good sleep hygiene and habits are therefore essential to ensure you get a good night’s sleep – and more importantly, the quality of the sleep is there.

 

Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is used to describe the rituals and habits that make up your nightly routine.  Practicing good sleep hygiene is the easiest way to improve the quality of the sleep you get.

Your sleeping environment has a massive impact on how well you sleep. Specifically, here’s what you need to focus on:

Temperature – The ideal room temperature should be between 16 to 18 degrees Celsius – which is neither too hot nor too cold. Any lower, and you’ll feel too cold, and any warmer, and you’ll be tossing and turning all night!

Darkness – The darker your room, the better the quality of sleep. Your room should have curtains or blinds that completely black out the morning sun – which is a common culprit for waking people up too early.

Quiet – An obvious one, but somehow, when you’re struggling to sleep, the ticking of your clock, or the sound of traffic outside or radiators creaking are enough to keep you wide awake.

For noisy rooms, consider earplugs if needs be, or use ‘white noise’ in the background. White noise is a special type of sound which is used to mask background sounds and can promote healthy sleep.

Specifically, white noise drowns out sounds which might otherwise prevent you from either falling asleep or staying asleep. There are lots of videos on YouTube for white noise which you can play to help you.

A Comfortable Mattress And Pillow – You’d be surprised at how often poor sleeping habits are due to beds and pillows that are not that comfortable or conducive to a good night’s sleep. Memory foam helps to cushion the body, supporting it properly and encouraging good sleep posture – plus it feels like you’re sleeping on a cloud!

Your pillow should support your head and should feel cool on your skin. You can even get special pillow cool pads if your head gets too hot (most common with feather and man-made materials).

Also, ensure your bedroom is a calming and inviting place for sleep – think clear, clean and open spaces, calm colours, crisp cotton sheets and basically a sanctuary you can’t wait to escape to!

Finally, consider a sleep or wind-down ritual in the evening. Turn off ALL screens (laptop, TV, phone) at least 2 hours before bedtime and dim the lights. This allows the body to produce more melatonin – the natural sleep-inducing hormone.

Take a warm bath and then curl up with a good book and a nice warm glass of milk. While the jury is still out on whether or not warm milk encourages good sleep, but many people swear by it.

Be mindful of your body’s natural cues – if you are tired, stop what you’re doing and prepare for sleep. You often have a small window of opportunity to go to bed, before you get what’s known as a ‘second wind’ – this usually happens between 10:45 and 11 pm or is signalled by you getting tired.

If you miss it, you get a cortisol-driven “second wind” that can keep you awake until around 2 pm. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone and makes you feel alert – so always try and get to sleep before 11 pm so you wake up feeling more rested.

Lifestyle Factors & Other Sleep Issues

Lifestyle plays a HUGE role in whether or not you sleep well. The number one source of lifestyle-related problems when it comes to sleep comes from none other than stress. Stress really can cause you to burn out and contributes massively to the feeling of being ‘tired but wired.’

Taking up yoga, pilates, swimming or going for regular walks in nature all have calming effects, as does deep breathing. Incidentally, deep breathing is brilliant for instantly calming you down, relaxing your body and helping you drift off.

If you want to put it to use, then try the ‘4-7-8’ method, which has been pioneered by US sleep expert Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil claims this technique works by calming the mind and relaxing the muscles.

You simply inhale through the nose for a count of 4, then hold your breath for a count of 7, before slowing exhaling from your mouth for a count of 8.

Repeat this until you fall asleep. I tried this myself and fell asleep in less than a minute!

As a general rule of thumb, eating healthy and taking regular exercise really does help in keeping your body healthy from the inside out, managing stress levels and allowing you to sleep much better.

 

Eat The Right Things

Food plays a huge role in helping you get the best shut-eye.  For example, did you know that eating a banana at night is a great way to help you sleep better?

Banana contains awesome vitamins and natural components that are overall very good for you…

Here’s why:

  1. Magnesium – helps promote sleep by working as a natural muscle relaxant and can help you fall asleep faster!
  2. Potassium works with magnesium and is great if you have trouble staying asleep at night. Potassium also helps improve symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome and leg cramps.
  3. Tryptophan is a powerful essential amino acid which acts as a good sedative and can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep too!
  4. Vitamin B6 is needed to make melatonin – the sleep-inducing hormone. This helps to control your sleep and waking cycles.

Just as bananas are really good for you, lettuce, turkey, chamomile tea are also very good for you! They contain trace minerals and hormones such as melatonin and tryptophan which are both known as sleep hormones.

In case you didn’t know it already, drinking alcohol disrupts your sleep cycle and prevents a good night’s sleep!

When you drink alcohol before bed you may initially fall into deep sleep quicker. This is why some people find drinking alcohol helps them drop-off to sleep. But as the night goes on you spend less time in this deep sleep and more time than usual in the less restful, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. This can leave you feeling tired the next day no matter how long you stay in bed.

Caffeine is also a big no, and in fact, can stay in your system for as long as 8 hours – so ideally, if you’re aiming to be in bed by 11 pm, at the latest, you should not be having any caffeine after 3 pm.

By the way, if you find pain in your body a big reason for lack of sleep, then check out our other blog post here: SLEEP PAIN

Lastly, try a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow to help you sleep faster. Simply inhale deeply taking slow, deep breaths and you’ll find yourself drifting off to sleep quickly. It’s also great for unwinding after a long day and helps to relax you – so add a couple of drops to your shower tray and let that help you kickstart your night routine.

 

Conclusion

In this post, we’ve covered in detail how sleep deprivation affects health. It’s essential to prioritize your sleep so you feel happier, healthier, more productive and more energized. As with anything, it can sometimes take a while to get into the swing of a new routine.

If you still find that after several weeks of implementing changes your sleep hasn’t improved, it’s worth taking a visit to your GP to rule out anything else.

If you enjoyed this post, please do leave a comment below!

PS – Have you joined our health and wellness Facebook group yet? If not, make sure you don’t miss out on the latest health and wellness tips by joining us here: FACEBOOK GROUP

 

 

 

 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/

http://news.berkeley.edu/2013/08/06/poor-sleep-junk-food/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sleep-deprivation-tied-to/

http://news.berkeley.edu/2013/08/06/poor-sleep-junk-food/

https://www.tuck.com/how-much-sleep-do-i-need/#average_amount_of_sleep_by_age

https://www.sleep.org/articles/4-tips-maximize-circadian-rhythm/

3 Responses to "How Sleep Deprivation Affects Health"
  1. Great article..I have a job that means regular unscheduled interruption during sleep..reading your passage on deep sleep I think there’s a typo..I’m interested in what it should read as..it starts “During deep sleep you hardly move..” it goes on to say “rarely sleep” ..that sounds odd..do you mean “breathe “..?

    • Thanks Simon! Really happy you found it helpful! Yes you’re right, there was indeed a typo – it should say you rarely dream 🙂 It’s now been fixed. 🙂

  2. Another really informative article with some fresh insight and advice on how to achieve the perfect night’s sleep.
    Keep up the good work Markland team.
    Sweet dreams…

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