Do you wake up every morning feeling exhausted and unrested? Sleep is as important to our bodies as food and water.
According to new research, an overwhelming one-third Europeans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Most of us are aware that we need good sleep at night, but unfortunately very few of us make sleep a top priority in our lives. We spend more than one-third of our lives sleeping; sleep is a vital indicator of our mental and physical health. From hectic weekdays to socially overwhelming weekends, our daily lives affects our sleep patterns and vice versa. Temporary (and sometimes chronic) sleep issues are likely to affect each one of us at some point.
WHY DO WE NEED TO SLEEP?
Sleep helps protect our physical, mental and emotional health. The way you feel while awake depends to a large extent on how well you sleep at night. A good night’s rest also impacts brain health and affects how we think, learn, respond, work, make decisions and get on with others. In fact, the brain does a lot of work while we sleep! If you experience chronic sleep deficiency, your decision-making is likely to be impaired and you often have difficulty controlling your emotions and behavior.
It’s not only important to us; Children and teens need adequate sleep for growth and development. Sleep deficiency in teens has been linked to risky behaviors including suicidal tendencies, depression and rage attacks. You can function well on multiple levels through the day when you get enough sleep.
Age and lifestyle choices play a significant role in determining sleep patterns. Young children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep while most adults should be sleeping well for at least 7 to 8 hours per day. Older adults, babies and patients may need additional hours of sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation compromises the immune system. In other words, people who are sleep deprived are more likely to get sick.
Let’s identify three common factors that affect the quantity and quality of sleep.
1. EXCESSIVE CAFFEINE INTAKE
People in the UK are known to drink 70 million cups of coffee per day. Most of us drink coffee or caffeinated beverages to help us stay alert. However, caffeine works by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals and promoting the release of adrenaline. You may experience sleep problems if you are in the habit of consuming over 400mg of caffeine or more than four 8oz. cups of coffee each day.
Caffeine is found in a surprisingly large number of foods including syrups, tea, sodas, candy, waffles and gum. According to Kenneth Wright, Sleep Researcher at the University of Colorado, excess caffeine disrupts our biological clocks and interferes with natural sleep cycles. It’s best to avoid caffeinated drinks at least six hours before bedtime.
2. ADDICTION TO ELECTRONICS
A recent report in the Business Insider Magazine said that 90% of youngsters between the ages of 18 and 29 years slept with their smartphones switched on. In today’s world of gadgets, gizmos and television, most people are up long past their bedtime to stare at their mobile or TV screens. Social media chatting, chronic texting and late-night TV-viewing interfere with our natural sleep cycles.
The laptop on your bed, the TV in your bedroom and the cell phone on the bedside table do much more than just disturb your sleep. Not only does the buzz of incoming alerts keep you awake but backlit screens disrupt the production of melatonin—an important sleep-inducing hormone.
3. STRESS AND LACK OF SLEEP
We often find it hard to let go of our thoughts when we wind down to sleep. The day’s anxieties, difficult situations, work related stress and other worries come back to haunt us at bedtime. This tends to trigger a hyperarousal in the body and releases a rush of adrenaline (a fight or flight hormone triggered due to stress). People suffering from stress often experience poor or fitful sleep and wake up feeling unrefreshed. Exercise, meditation and yoga are effective ways to release pent-up stress and negative emotions.
Please keep in mind that ‘catching up’ on lost sleep is often ineffective. Sleeping at odd times throws the body’s natural circadian rhythms (sleep cycles) out of whack. Chronic sleep deprivation can make us irritable, cranky and exhausted. We may also have trouble with concentration and memory. Most importantly, continued lack of sleep leaves us vulnerable to a host of physical and mental health problems. Identifying poor lifestyle habits can help us implement corrective measures for better sleep health.