Are you getting enough sleep?

Are you bleary-eyed as you read this? If you’re like 60 per cent of adults, you’re not getting enough sleep, or good enough quality sleep.

Sleep plays a crucial role throughout our lives in helping to protect physical, mental, and emotional health; quality of life; and safety.  How you feel when you’re awake depends partly on what happens while you’re sleeping, with damage from sleep deficiency causing not only daytime tiredness, but also interference with work, school, social functioning, and driving.

Lack of quality sleep:  The negative effects

Here’s why you should make every effort to close down the telly/computer/book, and just go to bed earlier.

1. Insufficient sleep slows you down mentally and harms your memory.  Your alertness, attention span, concentration, and capacity to solve problems all decrease significantly the day after a poor night’s sleep.  

2. You are at higher risk for accidents.  Both at work and on the road, you are a danger not just to yourself but to others.  Drowsy drivers often don’t realise they’re about to doze off, but being tired behind the wheel is said to be just as dangerous as being drunk.  In the United States, driver fatigue is a significant factor in over 100,000 car crashes, and responsible for over 1,500 road-related deaths each year.  

3. Poor sleep can make you fat.  Short sleep duration, studies show, is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity in all age groups.  

4. With sleep deficiency you may be depressed.  One study found that those who regularly reported an inability to sleep were five times more likely to be depressed than those who were sleeping well.  

5. Higher risk of diabetes.  Sleep affects how a person’s body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.  Sleep deficiency results in elevated blood sugar, which increases the risk for diabetes.  In one study, healthy young men had their sleep restricted to 4 hours for 6 nights in a row; they developed symptoms of pre-diabetes. 

6. Poor sleepers have higher risk for heart disease and stroke.  In 15 studies, short sleepers were found to be at far greater risk of heart disease or stroke than those who slept 7-8 hours per night.  

7. With insomnia you look older.  When we are fatigued, we tend to run on cortisol, a hormone our body produces when we are stressed.  High levels of cortisol break down the collagen protein that helps glue your skin cells together.  Chronically sleep-deprived people have increased fine lines, poor skin tone, and wrinkles.  

8. Sleep deprivation impairs immune function.  In one large study, those who slept less than seven hours were three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept eight hours or more. 

Improving your quality of sleep

If you are struggling with a sleep issue, what is the best way to fix it?  Here are the top tips from a doctor and sleep expert.

1. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.  This conditions our body to follow a regular pattern of sleep, allowing our circadian rhythms to regulate the body’s natural clock.

2. Set up a quiet, dark, cool sleep environment.  Studies show that by reducing light and noise, we also eliminate many of the disruptions that would wake us too early.  Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, but not for computers, work, or playing with pets.  

3. Four to six hours before retiring, steer clear of items on the “forbidden” list.  Not only caffeine, nicotine, and chocolate make this list, but also alcohol.  A “nightcap” will help you get to sleep, but worsens your sleep, fragmenting the stages of it and often keeping you from staying asleep.  In fact, any eating or drinking at all in the several hours before bedtime can cause disrupted sleep, through problems such as heartburn, reflux, and excessive need to urinate. The other item here is exercise, which is great overall for improved wellness and healthy sleep, but shouldn’t occur fewer than four hours before you sleep, as your revved up body will resist sleeping.   

4. Say goodbye to the “nana” nap.  Have you ever heard of “sleep drive”?  The longer we are awake, the stronger the drive to go to sleep.  Taking a nap relieves the desire to sleep, but then reduces the drive to sleep later at an appropriate time.  

5. Develop some sleep rituals which include quiet activities before sleeping.  Reading, relaxing music, meditation or other stillness practice, and the traditional warm bath can all relax us, helping to induce sleep.  Try these 15 minutes before bedtime.

6. Don’t fight your body in bed.  If you have insomnia, don’t lie there struggling. After 15 minutes of not being able to sleep, get up and go do a quiet activity in another quiet place until you feel sleepy; then return to your bed to sleep.

7. Sleep is supremely important; treat it with respect!  Don’t sacrifice sleep just because all the things you were doing during the day/evening took longer than they should have.  Schedule your sleep like a good time manager and stick to your sleep schedule no matter what else happens during the day.

Wishing you sweet dreams!

References

NIH (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). (2012). Why is sleep important?  National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute. Retrieved on 24 January, 2016, from:  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

Peters, B. (2014). Better sleep guidelines:  Top 10 ways to get a better night’s sleep tonight. About.com. Retrieved on 13 January, 2016, from:  http://sleepdisorders.about.com/od/top10waystosleepbetter/a/getbettersle...

Dr. Meg Carbonatto

Meg completed her B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in the United States before moving to New Zealand. In Auckland, Meg gained her counselling and psychotherapy diplomas and worked in private practice. She has written two books, the more recent one, published in 2009 and entitled Back From the Edge, is a collection of stories celebrating resilience in adversity. Meg started at the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors in 2011, where she has been happily writing counselling and psychotherapy courses.  She also sees therapy clients privately. Meg brings to all her professional activities a commitment to helping people manifest their full potential, creating lives infused with meaning and joy.

Please visit http://www.aipc.net.au/ for more information about AIPC