All the experts tell us getting a good night’s sleep is equally as important as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Scientifically backed research repeatedly shows that more sleep has a positive impact on so many aspects of our health and conversely not getting enough shut-eye can prove to be fatal.
Why then do so many of us continually ‘burn the candle at both ends’ and sacrifice our precious sleep as a result?
In the many decades I’ve known a very close mate of mine, he’s always been flat out, travelling through life at a cracking pace and only managing to get a few hours of sleep a night if he’s lucky.
Like most of us, he can’t seem to find enough hours in each day to achieve everything he needs to do, let alone getting to things he wants to do. He insists he doesn’t have time to rest and often sings a few bars from Bon Jovi’s hit song I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead in jest to illustrate his point, especially to his ever lamenting wife.
I’m six feet under
Baby I don’t need a bed
Gonna live while I’m alive
I’ll sleep when I’m dead
– Bon Jovi – Keep the Faith Album – Mercury Records
He received a huge reality check when he was shocked to learn from his doctor that his recent tests showed he seriously needed to slow down and sleep more or the song he likes to mockingly sing could soon become a self-fulfilling prophecy, much earlier than he’d like it to happen.
Health Risk Factors from Poor Sleep
~ Greater risk of heart disease and stroke – a review of 15 studies compiled by the NCBI – National Centre for Biotechnology Information discovered that people who don’t get enough sleep are at a far greater risk of chronic diseases including heart disease and stroke than those sleeping 7–8 hours a night.
~Depression – Mental health issues such as depression are strongly linked to poor sleep. It’s estimated 90% of people with depression complain about their poor sleep quality.
Poor sleep is also linked to an increased risk of suicide.
I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know? – Ernest Hemingway novelist and writer
~Increase Inflammation – It’s known that a lack of sleep triggers unfavourable markers of inflammation and cell damage and is strongly linked to long-term inflammation of the digestive tract.
One study conducted in June 2009 found sleep-deprived people with Crohn’s disease were twice as likely to relapse as patients who slept well.
The study concluded that both acute and chronic intermittent sleep deprivation can exacerbate colonic inflammation and could be an environmental trigger that predisposes patients to develop flare-ups and increase the severity of their disease.
~Weight gain – It’s hard to believe that we can sleep the kilograms away but it’s true.
Cross-sectional studies from around the world consistently showed an increased risk of obesity amongst short sleepers in children and adults.
This data was collected from 14 combined studies involving almost 30,000 children and around 600,000 adults. (Source: journalsleep.org).
Adult short sleep is defined as 5 hours or less sleep per night.
Ever wondered why you feel hungrier when you’re tired and you crave stodgier food. One reason could be because a lack of sleep disrupts the daily fluctuations in our appetite hormones and it’s thought to be a cause of poor appetite regulation.
~ Type 2 diabetes – In addition to us not eating a healthy diet when we’re over-tired, research now shows us that sleep deprivation can cause pre-diabetes in healthy adults. A study, involving healthy young men, who had their sleep restricted to just four hours per night over six nights in a row, showed symptoms of pre-diabetes. The good news is these symptoms resolved themselves after just one week of increased nightly sleep.
~Sleep clears the brain of damaging molecules associated with neuro-degenerative disorders such as dementia.
A study conducted in 2013 by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes showed for the first time that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours.
The leader of the study Dr Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Centre for Translational Neuromedicine at University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York put it simply; “We need to sleep. It cleans up the brain.”
~Poor sleep affects us doing simple daytime activities and impairs everything from memory loss to reduced concentration and performance, which leads to lost productivity.
Joe Leech is an Australian dietician based in Sweden; he has a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics and writes regularly for Healthline. Joe recently detailed the results of a study of almost 3,000 older women designed to examine the association between disturbed sleep and poor daytime function in older women.
This US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health study revealed poor sleep was linked to slower walking and lower grip strength.
I’m not an early bird or a night owl – I’m some form of permanently exhausted pigeon – Anon
~Beauty sleep – All the lotions and potions we buy to apply to our skin to help keep us looking more youthful can be a waste of time and money if we don’t get enough beauty sleep. Lack of sleep not only heightens dark circles and puffiness around the eyes, it also releases the stress hormone cortisol, which breaks down the skin’s collagen.
Extra sleep can slow down the visible signs of ageing and best of all it is free…the only cost is your time.
Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Here are some tips recommended by the National Sleep Foundation and the Harvard Medical School’s Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep.
- Try and stick as close to a sleep schedule as possible to regulate your body clock or circadian rhythms. This will help you fall sleep easier and stay asleep longer.
- Develop a bedtime routine to wind down, like dimming the lights, drinking camomile tea, taking a bath, implementing relaxation techniques, avoiding the use of any electronic devices and try reading a book instead. It is the type of light that comes from these screens that activates the brain.
- Avoid naps especially in the afternoon or when you’re getting close to your bedtime. While power naps may help you function better during the day, it might also hinder your sleep at night.
- Regular daily exercise, start off lightly then build up to a vigorous workout. You can exercise anytime but not too close to bedtime.
I really think that tossing and turning at night should be considered as exercise. – Anon
- Set up a good sleep environment –
- Comfortable mattress and pillow
- Comfortable room temperature (not too hot)
- Only use your bed for sleeping and sex but not necessarily in that order.
- Wear eye shades or darken your bedroom
- Ear plugs if your partner snores or it’s noisy outside.
- Limit your intake of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before going to bed.
- Avoid eating a big evening meal or eating too close to bedtime.
- Too many liquids close to bedtime can increase the number of times your bladder wakes you up to go to the toilet during the night, which can then easily develop into a habit.
- Sugar laden foods and refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and pasta can disrupt the deep restorative stages of sleep.
~ Sleep apnoea – The quality of our sleep is equally as important as its duration so whenever I speak about sleep or the lack of it, I feel it is vitally important to mention sleep apnoea.
The best example I can use is my nephew Matthew, who was diagnosed with severe sleep apnoea a few years ago after he underwent a simple sleep test, which he was hooked up to do at home by a sleep specialist.
The alarming results revealed that Matt stops breathing 56 times every hour and every time that happens he only receives 52% oxygen. His sleep specialist compared it to him trying to climb Mount Everest every night so it was little wonder he had dark circles under his eyes, was battling to stay awake during the day and he wasn’t his usual bubbly effervescent self.
Since using his sleep apnoea machine every night, his new sleep test revealed that he only stops breathing 11 times every hour and when he does the machine kicks in and he receives 100% oxygen, which means his sleep is rarely disturbed.
Instead of getting jolted awake almost every minute of every hour like he used to, his sleep apnoea machine now allows him to remain in a deeper sleep for many hours at a time.
The dramatic differences in his energy levels and his demeanour between using a sleep apnoea machine and not is extraordinary. He wakes up each morning feeling refreshed and alert again and is no longer grumpy nor does he fall asleep during the day anymore.
If you’re experiencing poor sleep, try and discuss the probable causes and solutions with your medical practitioner as soon as possible.
Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone –
Anthony Burgess UK writer and author of A Clockwork Orange
### Here’s a link to my Top Tips to Help You Fall Asleep (AMC Newsletter March 2017)
Bedgasm (noun) – A feeling of euphoria experienced when climbing into a bed at the end of a very long day
Are you willingly delaying your sleep and not getting your forty winks?
I hope arming you with these tips and knowledge of the risk factors that result from poor sleep, it encourages you to make a little extra time in each 24 hours to ‘hit the sack’ and catch more z’s, which I’m off to do right now.
Susie Elelman AM
TV & Radio Broadcaster and Author