Sleep and Health
Most people aren’t aware of just how important good sleep hygiene is to good health in general. When you have poor sleep habits it can affect your overall health in a number of ways. So how do sleep and health go together? Let’s look at some of the ways poor sleep habits can affect your health. If you have never thought of the connection between sleep and health this may be an eye opener, or an eye closer as the case may be.
Most of us know that a good night’s sleep is healthy; but do we really take that advice seriously? Many times, we brush aside a full night’s sleep due to our busy schedules, a need for “down time” that keeps us up, or simply life’s circumstances. But a lack of sleep can result in more than just feeling tired (which is bad enough). Medical experts warn that chronic sleep deprivation can have serious effects on your health.
Here are some health problems that may result from lack of sleep.
Cancer- While not all cancer risks are affected by lack of sleep, studies have indicated that breast and colon cancer risk is greatest for those who work night shifts. Apparently, the exposure to light in the night-time hours reduces the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is a brain chemical that helps promote healthy sleep, but it may also reduce tumors and protect against cancer as well. The less you sleep, the less melatonin your body manufactures.
Heart Attacks-Statistically, heart attacks occur more often in the early morning hours. Experts believe this may have something to do with the particular way that sleep and waking affect the cardiovascular system. Studies have shown that the health problems that often lead to heart disease – obesity, high blood pressure, etc. – are exacerbated by lack of sleep.
Unhealthy Relationships- When you don’t get enough sleep, you tend to be moody and irritable, which is not good for any relationship. Also, sleep problems may lead to partners sleeping separately, or resentment on the part of one or both of the partners. This kind of tension may affect children as well.
Impaired Cognition- An inability to think straight or think constructively is a problem associated with sleep deprivation. You may have trouble remembering things, too, if you are not getting enough sleep.
Injury-From automobile accidents to accidents on the job, sleep deprivation has been implicated in all sorts of accidental injury situations. The brain just does not react as quickly or efficiently when you are starved of sleep, and clumsiness and mistakes are also symptoms associated with lack of sleep (and accidents).
Here are some signs to look for that you may not be getting enough sleep.
Regularity- Everyone has trouble sleeping now and then. We all experience the occasional sleepless night and groggy morning. We may even go through a period when we experience these things, such as during life transitions and stresses. But when sleep deprivation may be a problem is when it is a regular occurrence, and is unrelated to circumstances.
Sleep Debt- Experts point out “sleep debt” as a way in which sleep deprivation can enter your life without you necessarily realizing it. Sleep debt is accumulated gradually, and is said to result from an hour or more of missed sleep every night for several nights. Sleep debt can get so bad that several nights of regular sleep are required to improve normal functioning.
Mood- Lack of sleep can make people very irritable, sources say. Are you snappish and impatient? Do you find yourself having little tolerance for your own mistakes and those of others? It may be lack of sleep that’s the culprit.
Increased Appetite and/or Weight Gain- Did you know that a lack of sleep may increase your appetite and lead to weight gain? Perhaps the body’s need for energy when it’s sleep-deprived is what leads to a craving for sweets, carbohydrates, or just food in general. Increased appetite may also be the result of hormones that kick in when the body is deprived of sleep. Even without a marked increase in appetite, research has shown the sleep deprivation can result in weight gain. This also may be due to hormonal imbalances caused by too little sleep.
Mistakes- If you find yourself making silly mistakes on a regular basis – dropping things, forgetting dates on the calendar, messing up your schedule, and so forth – it may be your sleepy brain. Studies show that those who don’t get enough sleep have a hard time performing normal tasks that are no problem when they are getting enough sleep.
Depression- As with other mental disorders, sleep deprivation may not be a cause of depression, but rather a symptom. However, some sources do point out that depression can result from a lack of sleep. If you are feeling depressed and are having a hard time determining why, you might take a look at your sleep habits.
Here are some tips on ways to make sure you are getting enough sleep.
It’s easy to point to your schedule as the reason why you can’t get enough sleep. By the time you get a free moment it’s bedtime, and you really don’t want to go to bed just yet; you need some down time. Then you stay up too late and the cycle continues.
There are all sorts of other reasons, too, for not getting enough sleep. Maybe you have a spouse who snores, or you just have trouble sleeping once you do get to bed (insomnia). Whatever the reason, it’s important to make time and create the right environment for getting enough sleep.
It’s Bedtime- Remember how your parents pestered you about bedtime? They had a point. Instead of looking at the ever-later clock each night, knowing you “really should” get to bed, set a bedtime and stick with it. Most experts agree that you should go to sleep before midnight, preferably before 11pm. If this isn’t possible, be realistic and set a bedtime when you know you can get it, even if it’s midnight or 12:30am. Then be sure you get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep. Another note about bedtime – if it’s too early, that can cause problems too, experts note. If you find yourself fading to sleep at 7 or 8pm, you may find that you wake up in the small hours after only 5 or 6 hours’ sleep, and you can’t get back to sleep.
Your Bedroom- You may have a set-up in your bedroom that is not conducive to sleep. Here are some things to look for and adjust in your bedroom to make it more sleep-promoting. Dark and cool is the rule for a sleepy bedroom. Darkness is important for a proper night’s sleep – lights from neighbors’ homes, screens (including the TV or computer screen), lamps, and so forth can disturb your sleep patterns. Cooler temperatures are said to promote sleep. A higher body temperature may actually stimulate the body and prevent sleep, but cool temperatures help promote a comfortable night’s sleep. Your bed is for sleeping, not working. If you’re in the habit of working on bills, office work, etc. while sitting on or in bed, you might be inadvertently training your brain to be stimulated when you are in your bed. Also, it’s harder to walk away from work worries if you literally take them to bed with you! Try to keep your work in another room, or at least away from your bed. Keep it quiet in your bedroom. If you have trouble in this regard, use a fan or other source of white noise at night to drown out disruptive sounds.
Make Lists- Do worries keep you awake? Do you have a hard time turning off your brain? Making a list may help. Write down all of those things that are bothering you or that you can’t get your mind off of, and note some practical steps you can take in the morning (or during the upcoming day or week) to work those things out.
As we study sleep more we find so many ways that sleep affects our waking life. It’s important to find a balance in your life and get enough sleep. Your health depends on it.
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