Not enough sleep can harm your health. Here’s how to make sure you’re getting more than just 40 winks.
Sleep controls everything in the body: your mood, memory, bone growth, hormones, immunity, blood sugar, and tissue repair.
‘Studies show that if animals are kept awake for excessive periods of time, the effects of sleep deprivation can be worse than starvation. If you think about it, we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, which makes sleep crucial,’ says Dr Kevin Rosman, a Joburg-based clinical sleep doctor.
Sleep is such an important aspect of our health and wellbeing, and yet so many adults struggle to get a decent night’s worth. Dr Rosman explains why that is, what the effects are, and shares some ideas on how you can improve your sleep.
How much sleep should you be getting?
‘The younger you are, the better you cope with sleep deprivation,’ says Dr Rosman. ‘However, this catches up with you, and as you get older you stop functioning properly after losing sleep.’
He explains that while the amount of sleep you need is a totally individual matter as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ formula, the average amount of sleep an adult needs is about seven and a half hours each night.
‘Some people just naturally sleep for shorter amounts of time and will do perfectly with five hours of sleep a night. Others naturally sleep for longer and need a good eight or nine hours of sleep to feel their best. This is genetically
determined and can’t be changed, but as long as you feel alert the following day, you’ll know you’re getting enough sleep.’
How does poor sleep really affect you in the long term?
Over and above feeling lethargic and drained after a few nights of poor sleep, there are other more serious negative side effects to consider. Dr Rosman explains:
- Weight. ‘Depending on your specific sleep disorder, you may see an increase in your weight.’
- Immune system. ‘People who have inadequate sleep will, on average, have more infections than those who get enough sleep.’
- Emotional state. ‘Lack of sleep will typically cause irritability, but it can even cause or worsen depression.’
- Skin, hair and nails. ‘Because sleep mediates tissue repair, your skin, hair, and nails will suffer under sleep deprivation.’ You may develop break-outs or a pallid tone to your skin, your nails might break or split more easily, and your hair may lose some of its healthy bounce and shine.
- Memory. ‘Sleep disorders typically affect your memory and cause forgetfulness of minor things like names and dates, but this can become more severe the longer the disorder goes untreated. Concentration can also be severely affected; driving after being awake for 19 hours is the same as driving drunk, and driving after 26 hours of being awake is the same as driving at double the legal limit of alcohol.’
- Risk of heart disease. ‘Depending on your sleep disorder, you may be at increased risk of heart disease or little to no risk at all. For example, obstructive sleep apnoea can increase the risk of heart disease by 23 times while many other disorders barely affect this risk.’
- Risk of diabetes. ‘Lack of sleep on any given night can cause your blood sugar to rise the following morning, but if the sleep problem is corrected, your sugar levels will return to normal. Longterm sleep deprivation can result in long-term issues with your blood sugar levels. On the other hand, diabetes can actually cause sleep problems.’
Did you know?
There are over 80 sleep disorders. Insomnia, sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome are a few of the more common ones.
3 tips to help you sleep through
- Don’t have a ‘nightcap’. ‘Alcohol might make you feel sleepy but it’ll wake you up a few hours later,’ says Dr Rosman.
- Do ditch the caffeine. ‘Avoid caffeinated drinks and opt for tea instead. Remember that tea might not contain caffeine, but it contains theobromine, which has a similar effect to caffeine. Most herbal teas have a calming effect, making them your safest bet,’ he says.
- Don’t go to bed hungry. Going to bed on an empty stomach will make you more likely to wake up for a snack.
‘While watching excessively violent or graphic shows before bed is known to keep people awake at night, I’ve yet to meet a person who complains of being kept awake after watching Mr Bean,’ says Dr Rosman.
FEATURE: CANDICE CURTIS PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM