We’ve all spent a night tossing and turning, and we know the next day we’ll feel tired, cranky, and sluggish, but missing out on the recommended 7 to 9 hours of shut-eye nightly does more than affect your mood. The relationship between sleep, health problems, and mood is a primary biological need, something that no animal can live without, like food and water. We end up sleeping for about one-third of our existence, yet we still don’t know exactly why sleep is essential. Why do we have trouble achieving such a necessary part of our overall health, what damage does long-term sleep deprivation do, and what can we do to combat these symptoms?
Why do we have trouble sleeping?
It seems that anything as vital to our health as sleep should come naturally to us, but it is not that easy for many. Several factors may make it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep:
- Sleep apnea: This condition is when something blocks oxygen from getting to your lungs as you sleep. This may be anything from sleep position to low muscle tone, but it prevents oxygen from circulating in your body, preventing you from resting properly. This can be determined through a sleep study.
- Nighttime exercise: Exercise before bed excites your entire nervous system, making it hard to sleep.
- Diet: Drinking caffeine, eating big meals, eating spicy foods, or drinking alcohol too close to bedtime can cause your digestive and nervous system to be responding to the food or drink instead of resting. A healthy body weight will assist with sleep.
- Heat: Your body rests best at between 65 and 72 degrees. Any colder for the body temperature and you will begin to shiver, affecting your sleep, and any warmer will disrupt your sleeping pattern.
- Pain: Pain makes it difficult to sleep, and there is research stating sleep loss can increase inflammation leading to even more pain. It can be a vicious cycle.
- Stress/Depression: Our brain, to sleep, needs to relax; while dealing with anxiety or depression, it has a difficult time doing this. Obtaining a treatment plan, creating daily habits, or obtaining sleep aids or sleep medication can enhance the quality sleep gained.
- Poor sleep habits: Staying up late and sleeping late can disrupt your body’s natural rhythms, making it more difficult to sleep. If you have restless sleep it creates poor sleep quality.
- A poor mattress: A mattress supports your body, and a bad mattress can make it difficult for your body to relax. If you need to know more on what mattress size is best, be sure to read our latest blog.
What are the long term effects of sleep deprivation?
We do know the long-term effects of the quality of sleep are real. After a sleepless night, you logically feel sluggish the next morning, but a new study shows that your brain cells feel sluggish, too. When your brain cells are tired, you’re more likely to be forgetful and get distracted more easily. The researchers found that sleep deprivation inhibits your brain cells from communicating effectively, leading to critical brain function issues that can cause memory loss and lower cognitive function.
There’s been a great deal of research on sleep disturbances and the types of sleep in the past two decades. This research has led us to understand much more clearly what happens without proper sleep. We now know that sleep plays a vital role in learning and memory. The part of our brain associated with newly-acquired information is more active during certain stages of sleep to embed it into long-term memory (see “Decoding the Patterns in Sleep” and “The Sleeping Brain“).
Sleep is vital to brain health maintenance, and prolonged periods of sleep deprivation can have severe consequences. Sleep problems have been linked to specific brain disorders and psychiatric difficulties. It stands to reason that maintaining your sleep hygiene avoids some of these risks. (see “The Link Between Depression, Sleep, and Stress“).
The long-term effects of sleep deprivation are serious, draining your mental abilities and putting your physical health at real risk. Science has linked insufficient sleep with many health problems, from weight gain to high blood pressure. A new study alarmingly shows that even a single night of sleep deprivation begins the process where brain proteins implicated in Alzheimer’s begin to accumulate, highlighting once again the importance of good sleep hygiene for brain health. Other problems associated with lack of sleep include:
- Mood changes: When you are tired, the emotional center of your brain does not work correctly. The number of amounts of sleep can cause sudden sadness or rage, disrupting your relationship with those around you.
- Accidents: Your brain literally can’t communicate as well with your body when you are tired. If you are driving in this state, it is similar to driving while alcohol-impaired and may cause you to have an accident.
- Lowered immune system: Without your body getting a proper amount of rest, your immune system weakens, allowing bacteria and viruses to attack you more freely.
- Diabetes: As you sleep, your body adjusts the natural insulin levels in your body. Without proper sleep, this adjustment fails, increasing your risk of diabetes.
- Heart Disease: Sleep quality interferes with your brain’s ability to adjust blood flow in your body. When this flow is adjusted incorrectly, it can lead to high blood pressure and, eventually, heart disease.
What can we do to sleep better?
The link between sleep and the common sleep disorder are not severe and can be fixed by taking a few steps that will also improve your overall health. There are problems like sleep apnea, which may need a doctor to help, but you can solve most sleep problems without assistance.
- Exercise: While exercising at night will keep you up, exercising during the day will deplete some of your body’s natural energy allowing you to sleep better at night.
- Diet: It can take up to six hours for caffeine to altogether leave your body, and having your stomach working on digesting a big meal will interrupt your sleep cycle. To sleep better, watch your caffeine intake, and don’t eat large meals before sleep.
- Sleep pattern: Establishing a regular sleep pattern where you sleep and wake at the same time every day will align the rest you get with your circadian rhythm(your body’s natural routine of resting and waking.)
- Buy a better mattress: Your sleep is essential, and the right mattress is a natural part of that sleep pattern. If your mattress has you tossing and turning, click here to find some experts who can help you get a new one.
Sleep hygiene is an integral part of your health regimen. It is as essential as exercise and a good diet. Ignoring your rest can have dire consequences, but luckily, you can take easy steps to improve your sleep pattern.