A good night’s sleep is incredibly important for optimal health. The right amount of sleep can vary from person to person, but it is recommended that adults should get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night. It is also estimated that 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep and this can affect their health, wellbeing, and ability to do their daily activities. Studies have found insufficient sleep to be tied with a greater overall risk of death. It is, thus, essential to consider the quality and quantity of sleep we get. Regardless of how many hours we spend, the quality of sleep we get is very important. The quality of your sleep can be affected by breathing difficulties such as sleep apnea, an excessively warm or cold environment, a noisy environment, uncomfortable bed, waking frequently at night, among others.
Causes of Lack of Sleep
Multiple factors can cause or contribute to sleep deprivation. They include:
- Poor sleep hygiene.
- Lifestyle choices.
- Work obligations.
- Sleep disorders, e.g sleep apnea – a breathing disorder that causes frequency nightly awakenings.
- Menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.
- Other medical conditions e.g general anxiety disorder which can interfere with the quality and quantity of sleep.
Effects of Lack of Sleep on your Health
Lack of sleep can affect various aspects of health and cause diseases such as:
- Cardiovascular Diseases: Sleep helps the heart vessels heal and rebuild. In addition, it affects processes that maintain blood pressure, sugar levels, and inflammation control. Too little sleep may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- Diabetes: According to some studies, insufficient sleep has an impact on the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, thereby increasing the risk of metabolic conditions.
- Obesity: Sleep can affect the hormones that control feelings of hunger and fullness. Research shows that people tend to consume more calories and carbohydrates when they don’t get enough sleep which may lead to being overweight or obese.
- Hormonal Abnormalities: Sleep helps the body to properly produce and regulate levels of various hormones. Insufficient sleep can affect hormone production, including the creation of growth hormones and testosterone. It also prompts the body to release additional stress hormones such as norepinephrine and cortisol.
- The Immune System: Sleep deprivation has been proven to lead to worsened immune function, and may cause a person to be more prone to infections, respiratory diseases, auto-immune diseases, and poorer responses to vaccines.
- Mental Health Disorders: Sleep and mental health are closely related, and poor sleep has strong associations with conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
- Fertility: Constant lack of sleep can have an effect on the production of hormones responsible for fertility.
- Cancer: Research has shown that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with occurrence of certain cancers. These include cancers of the breast, bowel and prostate.
- Mood: Sleep deprivation can result in mood swings and easy irritability.
- Cognitive function: Poor sleep has been associated with poorer short term memory, attention and processing speed, and poor academic performance. Cognitive performance on a range of tasks suffer with sleep disruption. This cognitive impairment results in reduced alertness, impairs judgment, and affects reaction time while driving. This can lead to more accidents.
- Reduced sex drive: Lack of sleep has been linked to low libido in both men and women. In men, this may be due to reduced testosterone production.
What To Do If you Are Not Sleeping Well
Make Sleep a Priority
Lack of sleep often occurs when people prefer to forfeit sleep in favour of work, leisure, or other obligations. To correct this, take the necessary steps to make sleep a priority:
- Attempt going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends and holidays, to establish a routine.
- Create boundaries in your work and social life so that you preserve the full time you need for rest each night.
- Prepare for bed each night with the same steps such as reading, meditating and bathing.
Customise your Bedroom Environment
Design your bedroom to be ideal for your relaxation. Your mattress and pillows should offer lots of support, and your bedsheet should help you feel cosy while maintaining a moderate temperature.
Avoid Things that can Disrupt your Sleep
A reasonable step in dealing with lack of sleep is to avoid things that can often affect your sleep. This includes electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops, alcohol drinking and caffeine intake close to bedtime, heavy meals and, in some cases, daytime naps.
Make Use of the Day
Getting frequent exposure to light during the day supports a healthy circadian rhythm that helps you be alert during the day and sleepy at night. Exercise and physical activity also help to have a normal sleep schedule.
Visit the Doctor
In cases of recurring lack of sleep which interferes significantly with your day-to-day life, please visit a doctor. Your doctor will review your situation and recommend medical or non-medical treatments as required.