The importance of sleep

February 27, 2023

World Sleep Day falls on the 17th of March and the slogan for 2023 is “Sleep is Essential for Health”. Sleep, or the lack thereof, has a huge impact on many aspects of our life, including our heart and mental health.

The aim of this day is to increase awareness regarding the importance of sleep health. Many people are not aware of the importance of sleep and that they might even be suffering from common sleep-related issues that can have a profound impact on their ability to sleep.

Sleep disorders affect more than 50 percent of people, which means that every second person suffers from minor to mild sleep disorders. Of these 50 percent, 10 to 15 percent of people develop chronic disorders.

There are several phases of sleep, each of which is important, but in general, sleep is a natural state of relaxation that helps to restore and energise our mind and body.

Disruption of one’s sleep pattern has a huge impact on our body and mental health. It is therefore vital, and attention should be paid to the importance of sleep.

Circadian rhythms are natural, internal processes that regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Natural factors within our bodies produce circadian rhythms while environmental factors such as sunlight also influence them.

Adhering to a regular Circadian rhythm, going to sleep, and waking up at roughly the same time every day, have been found to lower the risk of sleep disorders, mental health disorders, and chronic health issues such as obesity and diabetes.

Sleep deprivation can result in anxiety, sadness, depression and decrease productivity as well as irrationality. Numerous people suffer injuries or even die due to sleep-related accidents.

Those with frequent sleep disturbances report missing work and making errors at work more often when compared to healthy sleepers.

Short-term negative effects include decreased attention span, memory recall, and learning.

Long-term negative effects include significant health problems such as obesity, diabetes, weakened immune systems, and increased risk of some cancers.

A lack of sleep has also been related to psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis. On the other hand, the health benefits of getting enough sleep include staying at a healthy weight, a lower risk for serious health problems, reduced stress, and an improved mood, as well as better concentration and performance.

Your immunity will improve and you should get sick less often.

How much sleep is enough?

According to the National Sleep Foundation in America, around seven to nine hours of continuous sleep is necessary to ‘maintain good health and alertness during the day.’

Interestingly, the optimal sleep duration for an individual is largely determined by their genetics.

Three elements of good quality sleep are:

1. Duration – the amount of time you spend sleeping

2. Continuity – the amount of unbroken sleep you have

3. Depth – Sleep should be deep enough to be restorative

Some signs that you might not be getting enough sleep or ‘good’ sleep include red eyes, constant yawning, dozing off, poor concentration, and mood swings.

Sleep quality rather than quantity is an important factor to consider when it comes to quality of life and daily functioning.

Thirty-five percent of people do not feel that they get enough sleep. Common sleep disorders include obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which affects approximately four percent of the adult population and restless legs syndrome which affects between three to ten percent of the population.

Apart from disorders, shift work, caring for young children or the elderly, and staying up late for your social life are other reasons for disordered sleep.

Signs that you might have a sleeping disorder:

• Trouble falling or staying sleep

• Still feeling tired after a full night’s sleep

• Struggling to wake up in the morning and feeling as if it is too hard to move when you first, wake up

• Sleepiness during the day that impacts your daily activities

• Frequent loud snoring

• Pauses in breathing or gasping while sleeping

• Tingling or crawling feeling in your legs or arms

How can you improve your sleep? 

1. Go to bed at the correct time to allow you enough time to get an adequate amount of sleep every night.

2. As much as possible, establish and keep to a regular sleep and wake-up schedule. Regularity will help with stabilizing your internal biological clock.

3. Reduce light at night, especially two hours before you are planning on sleeping.

4. Put laptops, computers, and mobile phones away for at least an hour before going to sleep.

5. Drink chamomile tea.

6. Do not consume caffeine at night as caffeine is a central nervous system stimulator.

7. Breathe Well – The interruption of breathing during sleep is called sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder during which one’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Chances are, if you snore loudly and feel tired after a full night’s sleep, you might have sleep apnea.

Risk factors for sleep apnea include age and obesity and it is more common in men affecting approximately 4 percent of men. Other risk factors can be a large tongue, extra tissue, or decreased muscle tone holding the airway open. Treatment for sleep apnea includes weight loss, sleeping on your side, and the use of a breathing assistance device at night.

The most common device used is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Conditions such as hypertension, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes can occur because of this drop in oxygen which puts a strain on the heart.

8.  Optimise your sleep environment – Temperature, noise, air, light, bed comfort, and electronic distractions all play an important role in your quality of sleep.

9.  See a medical professional if you have Restless Legs Syndrome – A sleeping disorder where a person has a nearly irresistible urge to move their legs, which typically occurs in the evenings when the person is sitting or lying down.

This can have a huge impact on someone’s sleep as getting up and moving around is one of the only things that help the feeling go away. For a long-term solution, lifestyle changes or medication might help after consultation with your doctor or health professional.

10. Insomnia, a sleep disorder that affects between 30-45 percent of adults, is classified as habitual sleeplessness or the inability to sleep. Symptoms may include struggling to fall asleep or to stay asleep and not feeling well-rested. Common causes include stress, your travel or work schedule, poor sleep habits, eating too much late in the evening, mental health disorders, and certain medications. You have an increased risk if you are a woman and if you are over the age of 60 years.

Treatment for insomnia consists of improving sleep habits, behaviour therapy and identifying and treating underlying causes. Medication, such as sleeping pills, need to be cautiously used to avoid dependency and possible side effects must be monitored.

11. Try to spend some time during the day outdoors in the daylight.

12. Physical exercise should improve sleep. However, avoid doing physical activity directly before bed as this may keep cause you to struggle to sleep.

13.  If you struggle to sleep at night, limit daytime naps to 20 minutes or less.

14.  If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. While alcohol is a sedative and may help to induce sleep, sleep is often more fragmented.

15.  If you smoke, the nicotine in cigarettes might be making it harder for you to sleep.

16. Try not to eat a big meal right before you go to sleep.

Interesting facts about sleep

•  Every person experiences a different perception of what happens when they sleep.

•  One-third of a human’s life is spent sleeping. Sleep is a basic human need, much like eating and drinking.

•  Sleep is essential for metabolic regulation, especially in children. There is a link between the amount of sleep a child gets and childhood obesity. Sleep is also essential for a child’s overall wellness and development.

•  The human body can live without food for eight up to twenty-one days. However, it can only survive for seven to eleven days without sleep.

•  Studies show that approximately 12 percent of people dream in black and white.

•  We are one of the only mammals that can delay sleep and keep ourselves awake when our body is telling us it’s time to sleep.

•  Men, in general, feel less tired in the evening while women are more likely to be prone to waking up earlier.

•  Sleep boosts immunity.

•  Fifteen percent of the population sleepwalk, according to the National Sleep Foundation in America.

•  On average, it should take 10-15 minutes to fall asleep. There is a chance that you might be suffering from sleep deprivation if you fall asleep in 5 minutes or under.

•  Our sense of smell decreases when we sleep, which is one of the reasons that fire alarms were invented as noise will wake us up, but smells will not.

•  It is apparently impossible to sneeze while you are sleeping.

•  The sensation of falling when you are half asleep is not unusual and jerking yourself awake is called a ‘hypnic jerk’. These are usually increased by anxiety, caffeine, or physical activity close to bedtime.

•  The main emotions experienced in nightmares are not fear as many would expect, but rather feelings of sadness, guilt, and confusion.

•  Going without sleep has been linked to weight gain. This is because levels of leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone, fall.

A lack of sleep, or not sleeping well, is linked to short and long-term negative impacts on your health. Sleep is important and needs to be prioritised. Quality sleep is essential to ensure good health and optimal quality of life.

Yours in Wellness
Thandi and the Empact Team

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