Sleep your way to a healthier life

Catching up on your sleep is the first step to better wellbeing

Sleep your way to a healthier life
Sleep your way to a healthier life Image #2

Whether you’re a workaholic, busy parent or a bit of a party animal, chances are you’re not getting those 40 winks we all need. But sleep deprivation can lead to serious health issues so we chat with the experts to find out how to tackle it.

Many of us work late, spend precious dozing time looking after screaming kids or often rock up at home in the wee hours after a night on the town. For some, not getting enough sleep has become a way of life and whether you feel affected by it or not, it is a proven fact that not getting the recommended dose of shut-eye can have adverse affects on our health.

The National Sleep Foundation in the US recommends adults sleep seven to nine hours a night, which is a sufficient amount of sleep for the body to restore itself and function normally. Repeatedly have less and you’ll find yourself with a slew of health problems.

Dr Susan Partridge, a clinical psychologist from the UAE-based American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology, says, ‘We are all familiar with the effect of too many late nights. Feeling tired makes it more difficult to concentrate, we feel irritable, we don’t respond as quickly and we don’t learn as well as we do when well rested. Using MRI scans, one study in the US in 2007 showed that sleep deprivation causes the brain to become incapable of putting an emotional event into the proper perspective and unable to make a controlled, suitable response to that event.’

While you are sleeping, your body is in a state of rest – but at the same time, it’s also working hard. Rapid-eye movement (REM) is the lightest form of sleep, which makes up around 20 to 25 percent of an average night’s sleep. While the brain is in this state – the stage in which we dream vividly – memories are consolidated and stored, which helps the memory work. But if you don’t have a good night’s sleep, your brain won’t store them properly.

On top of that, a lack of sleep can also affect how we interpret things, impair reasoning, make us less alert and affect rational thought processes. It also causes discomfort, disease and in extreme cases, even death.

A study in 2004 showed that, on the flip side, sleeping increases healing. Rats with wounds that were sleep-deprived healed significantly slower than rats with wounds that had healthy sleep patterns.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed humans had a five-stage hierarchy of needs. Of these stages, the physiological one – which includes food, water, air and shelter – was most essential. According to Maslow, sleep is also an essential physiological need.

Maslow’s five stages filtered up to mental needs, such as health and employment. Maslow’s theory is that humans cannot progress up his pyramid of needs until all needs in each level are met. In other words, if you are malnourished and starving, you aren’t concerned with a need for self-esteem. So if you don’t get enough sleep, your body won’t function and you may struggle to progress mentally and emotionally as it cannot overcome the need to sleep. Dr Susan adds, ‘In a landmark study of human sleep deprivation, University of Chicago researchers followed a group of student volunteers who slept for only four hours a night for six consecutive days. The volunteers developed higher blood pressure and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to the breakdown of healthy skin, suppression of the immune system and internal damage. They also produced only half the usual number of antibodies to a flu vaccine.

‘The sleep-deprived students also showed signs of insulin resistance – which is a precursor of type two diabetes and metabolic slowdown. All the changes were reversed when the students made up the hours
of sleep they had lost. The Chicago research helps explain why chronic sleep debt (the amount of sleep hours you’ve lost) raises the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.’

As if that’s not enough to convince you, cutting back on sleep has also proven to cause emotional damage and weight gain, impaired judgement and mental instability. Sleep deprivation is associated with road accidents, depression, forgetfulness and a decreased ability to pay attention – so if you are sleep deprived, you probably haven’t even read this far.

There is no magic number of hours for everyone, but seven to nine hours is safe. So at any time of year, whether it’s a busy festive season or full of stressful deadlines, be sure to make time to rest.
American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology,

Trouble sleeping?

Dr Susan recommends, ‘Chamomile tea can help but try not to drink just before bed otherwise you’ll wake up to go to the bathroom. Essential oils such as lavender can help people relax, as can breathing exercises.
Ensure your room is dark, quiet and a comfortable, cool temperature. Taking an hour before bedtime to wind down is also important. Exercise will help too, but always ensure you give yourself a few hours to wind down before going to bed. Falling asleep with the TV on will reduce the quality of your sleep.’

Keep rested with these tips from the National Sleep Foundation

• Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends

• Follow a relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music

• Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows

• Use your bedroom only to sleep – keep ‘sleep stealers’ out of the bedroom, so avoid using a computer or reading in bed

• Finish eating at least two hours before your regular bedtime

• Quit smoking

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