"Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together." Thomas Dekker
Many of us focus on eating right, getting enough exercise, and drinking enough water when thinking about wellness. But what about sleep? Sleep is an essential building block of good health. Yet, if life becomes busy, we willingly sacrifice our sleep to meet deadlines, catch up on work, or browse the internet. Sleep deprivation has become common in today’s world. However, as new research suggests, sleep is as vital to a healthy and happy lifestyle as the air we breathe and the food we eat.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Well, you’re not alone. 1 in 3 Americans reports that they do not get the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night. Most, if not all, of us, know the feeling of waking up groggy and still tired. The effects can last throughout the day, causing irritation and daytime fatigue. Though unpleasant, these immediate side effects can seem okay to us at first. You just need a few more hours of shut-eye, right? As it turns out, after just a few days, a lack of sleep can start to cause bigger health problems or amplify ones that already exist.
How Exactly Can Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Health?
Sleep pretty much affects every aspect of your waking life. From your concentration and attitude to your gut and heart health, these are just some of the ways sleep deprivation affects your body’s functions.
Memory Issues – During sleep, your brain forms new connections that aid in processing and storing information. Without sleep, both short and long-term memory are compromised.
Lack of Concentration – Concentration, creativity, decision making, and problem-solving are all impaired by too few hours of sleep. To do your best work, you will need adequate sleep.
Mood Swings – Irritable, hot-tempered, and emotional, sleep deprivation directly influences your emotional state and, over time, can lead to anxiety and depression.
See blog post: Sleep and Your Brain
High Blood Pressure – Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic states: “The less you sleep, the higher your blood pressure may go. People who sleep six hours or less may have steeper increases in blood pressure.”
Heart Disease – An increased risk of high blood pressure, along with an increased level of inflammation-causing chemicals, can play a role in developing heart disease. These can both be results of sleep deprivation.
See blog post: Sleep and Your Heart
During sleep, the body produces infection-fighting antibodies and cytokines. It uses these substances to fight off foreign bacteria and viruses. Sleep deprivation can make you more susceptible to the common cold and flu, make a recovery slower, and amplify existing illnesses.
See blog post: Sleep and Your Immunity
Endocrine System – Interruptions in the night can interfere with growth hormone production. These hormones help the body build muscle mass and repair cells and tissues.
Obesity – Sleep affects the levels of two hormones, leptin, and ghrelin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness. Throwing them off-kilter can cause excess hunger, which can lead to obesity.
Causes of Sleep Deprivation
A consistent lack of sleep is, of course, the main cause of sleep deprivation. However, if measures are taken to correct sleep deprivation, and your symptoms remain, it can be due to a sleep disorder. Here are a few signs (and effects) of sleep deprivation:
- Excessive Sleepiness
- Frequent Yawning
- Daytime Fatigue
- Excessive Hunger
- Clumsiness & Lack of Concentration
And here are some more serious sleep disorders, which could be the cause of the symptoms listed above:
- obstructive sleep apnea
- restless leg syndrome
- circadian rhythm disorders
**These diagnoses should come from a doctor or a sleep specialist who can run a sleep study. If a sleep disorder is a cause, then a doctor or sleep specialist should be able to prescribe you medication or a device to help.**
So How Much Sleep Do You Need For Your Health?
The National Sleep Foundation (www.sleepfoundation.org) recommends the following:
|Age Range||Recommended Hours of Sleep|
|Newborn||0-3 months old||14-17 hours|
|Infant||4-11 months old||12-15 hours|
|Toddler||1-2 years old||11-14 hours|
|Preschool||3-5 years old||10-13 hours|
|School-age||6-13 years old||9-11 hours|
|Teen||14-17 years old||8-10 hours|
|Young Adult||18-25 years old||7-9 hours|
|Adult||26-64 years old||7-9 hours|
|Older Adult||65 or more years old||7-8 hours|
Prevention and Treatment of Sleep Deprivation
The most immediate and obvious form of treatment is to start making sure you get the right amount of sleep (check the sleep chart above for the amount of sleep based on age). However, this is much easier said than done, and a consistently inconsistent sleep pattern can make it difficult to set your sleep schedule right again.
There are actions you can take in your day-to-day life to ensure the quality of your sleep. Below is a list of some actions you can take to prevent sleep deprivation from becoming a problem in the first place or to help you get back on track.
Here are some ways to jumpstart your journey to quality sleep:
- Reduce your number of daytime naps (or avoid them completely)
- Don’t have caffeine past noon or, at the very least, a few hours before you go to bed
- Stick to a consistent bedtime routine, and time (even on holidays and weekends)
- Avoid heavy foods and excess eating within a few hours before you go to bed
- Stay away from your phone while in bed (sometimes easier said than done)
- Exercising regularly, but not close to bedtime
- Reducing alcohol and nicotine intake
If preventative actions are taken, and you continue to feel daytime fatigue or insomnia, talk to a healthcare professional.
Check out our blogs on how to get quality sleep, and check back soon for more sleep tips!