Updated: Jan 29, 2021
That is the question!
INTRO: Sleep plays a vital role in our mental and physical health. Sleep is involved in several internal processes that regulate internal organs, such as metabolism and the healing of damaged cells. Sleep deficiency can hinder and affect all these processes, which may lead to several health issues.
Do you find yourself nodding off or feel like falling asleep during work? Do you find yourself procrastinating because you do not have the energy to get it done? If yes, then you might be suffering from a lack of sleep. The importance of sleep is often ignored even though an average person spends one-third of their life doing it.
In the modern world, we have so many responsibilities, including family, job, and everyday chores, that finding time to relax can seem hard with such a hectic schedule. We often sacrifice our sleep to fit all these things. But sleep is an essential part of our lives and vital for our well-being. Getting enough sleep is even more critical to your health than following a strict diet or daily exercise routine. Sleep affects both mental and physical health. Quality sleep is the foundation for good health. Catching the right amount of sleep is vital for your body to rebuild tissues, replenish cells, and reclaim lost energy.
You may feel that sleeping only helps you feel rested after having a hectic day, but it is much more than that. When you sleep, your body or brain does not shut down. It is the time when your body works hard to clear up all the mess you have made throughout the day.
Sleep prepares your body and recovers it to take on the next day by healing the damaged cells, recharging the heart, and boosting the immune system. The lack of sleep can deteriorate your physical and mental health, leading to chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and much more. Let’s see how sleep works.
How Does Sleep Work?
When we sleep, all the internal systems of our body get to work and start to repair our bodies. This includes replacing cells, repairing damaged tissues, restoration of the energy supply of the body, and flushing out the toxins. As soon as the day begins, the body prepares itself to sleep. It produces a chemical called adenosine while you are awake that adds up continuously throughout the day. The chemical causes drowsiness and signals the body that it is ready to go to bed as the day progresses. Sleep and wakefulness are controlled by two bodily systems.
-Person’s biological clock (circadian rhythm)
-Person’s sleep drive
The biological clock is a biochemical cycle and repeated every 24 hours. It is responsible for your sleeping and waking time, hormone release, body temperature, and other subtle functions that blend with the 24-hour day. Sleep drive is like hunger. Based on how long you stay awake, it dictates how much sleep your body needs to function again properly. It is built throughout the day until the need for sleep is satisfied.
Mental and Physical Benefits of Sleep Helps Reduce Stress
Our bodies react to sleep deprivation by releasing an elevated amount of stress hormones. Regular and proper sleep helps prevent stress and keeps these stress hormones on a normal level.
Sleep Helps the Body Fight Back
During sleep, your body produces extra protein molecules. These molecules strengthen your body to fight infections.
Sleep Maintains Your Blood Pressure
Restful sleep brings the body to a constant state of relaxation. When the body relaxes, it reduces the blood pressure and keeps it under a normal range.
Sleep Improves Memory
When we do not get enough sleep, we feel tired, and it gets difficult for us to remember things. This is the signal from the brain that you have not gotten enough sleep.
When you sleep, the brain organizes and stores the memories. So when you get good sleep, your brain organizes and stores information properly.
Sleep Makes You Smarter
The brain is more productive when you get a good sleep. Not only a night's sleep but even a quick nap in the daytime makes the brain more proactive and effective. Sleep makes the brain sharper, more attentive, and focused.
Sleep Helps Maintain Body Weight
Sleep doesn’t affect the weight directly but helps keep it in control. During sleep, the body regulates hormones that are responsible for the control of appetite and reduce cravings for high-calorie food.
Sleep Reduces the Chances of Diabetes
Some researchers have found that lack of proper sleep can lead to type-2 diabetes. Sleep affects the processing of glucose in the body, and it can get disturbed if a person doesn't get enough sleep.
Sleep Keeps Your Heart Healthy
Regular patterns of sleep lower the level of inflammation to the cardiovascular system as well as stress that lowers the chances of developing heart disease.
Sleep Is a Healer and a Painkiller
Most of the body's healing takes place when you are sleeping. Pain relief is associated with good restorative sleep. Sleep deprivation numbs the brain's painkilling responses and increases the body's sensitivity to pain.
Sleep Puts You in a Better Mood
Good sleep helps you stay calm, collected, controlled, and reasonable. Lack of sleep makes you feel more agitated and can affect your performance in daily activities.
So how can you distinguish between a minor sleep problem and a serious sleep disorder? Some of the symptoms listed below can indicate sleep deprivation.
Feeling sleepy or irritable during the day
Having difficulty staying awake when watching television, sitting still, or reading
Having difficulty in concentrating
Feeling tired or sleepy while driving
Feeling like taking a nap almost every day
Getting told by others that you look tired often
Having difficulty controlling emotions
Needing caffeinated beverages to keep going
You may be dealing with a sleep disorder if you are experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms regularly.
Sleep Problems That People Face Today
There are different types of sleep problems faced by people today, of which some are caused by underlying health issues. The following are the common sleep problems.
It is a sleep disorder in which a person is unable to sleep or sleep well at night. There could be multiple reasons behind this, including mood disorder, depression, anxiety, stress, and medication, amount of caffeine consumed, hormone, jet lag, or digestive problem. Whatever the cause is, insomnia can be problematic for your overall health and can potentially cause:
Impaired work or school performance
This sleep disorder is extremely common and prevalent among older adults. There are three types of insomnia.
Chronic: It happens for at least a month regularly
Intermittent: It occurs periodically
Transient: It lasts for a few nights at a time
It is a sleep disorder that causes abnormal behavior and movement during sleep, such as:
Teeth grinding or jaw clenching
In this type of sleep disorder, your breathing stops temporarily, which awakens you frequently during sleep. It is a serious and life-threatening disorder. The person who has sleep apnea may not remember waking up but feels exhausted throughout the day. It decreases productivity because the person feels depressed and irritable. There are three types of sleep apnea.
Obstructive: The flow of air is disturbed because of the narrow airway
Central: Problem in the connection between brain and muscles that controls breathing
Complex: The combination of both obstructive and central sleep apneas
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
It causes an irresistible urge to move legs. It can occur during the day as well but is most prevalent at night. This urge is due to an uncomfortable aching or tingly sensation. The causes behind this syndrome are often associated with some health conditions. The exact cause is not always detectable, but it could be Parkinson’s disease or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder
We have talked about the biological clock of our body that controls our sleep cycle. At nighttime, when the light is less, our brain triggers the production of a sleep hormone called melatonin that makes us sleepy. In the morning, the brain tells the body to wake up. When this biological clock or circadian rhythm is disrupted, our body wants to sleep at inconvenient times. Disruption of the circadian rhythm leads to many sleep problems, depression, mood disorder, or seasonal affective disorder (a form of depression that occurs at the same time of every year, mostly in winters), also known as winter blues.
A person experiences jet lag when traveling across time zones. It disrupts the circadian rhythm temporarily. The symptoms include:
The longer you fly, the more pronounced the symptoms can be. It usually requires one day to adjust to a different time zone.
Health Issues Caused by Sleep Problems
Impact on the Central Nervous System
Sleep is necessary for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. It is the main information highway of our body. Lack of sleep can disturb its function of processing and sending information to other parts of the body. With the information sent by the brain being disrupted, you find it difficult to concentrate and learn new things. Moreover, it increases the risk of accidents because signals sent by the brain are delayed due to the lack of sleep.
Emotional and Mental Impact
Not getting proper sleep and being deprived of it can harm emotional and mental well-being. It causes mood swings and impatience. It affects your decision-making ability and creativity. You can start having hallucinations if you continue to be sleep-deprived. It can also trigger bipolar disorder.
Other psychological risks:
Impact on the Immune System
During sleep, protective substances are produced by the immune system of our body. These substances, such as antibodies and cytokines, fight harmful and foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses to protect the body. When the body does not get enough sleep, it prevents the immune system from building its protection forces. It makes the immune system weak. The body becomes sensitive to several diseases and takes longer to recover from illness.
Impact on the Digestive System
Sleep deprivation contributes to the risk of becoming obese and overweight. Sleep is responsible for regulating the level of hormones in the body that controls feelings of hunger. Due to lack of sleep, the hormones level rises above the normal level and stimulates hunger. It causes a person to overeat. When sleep deprivation continues, it increases the risk of developing diseases such as heart conditions and diabetes. For instance, insulin is produced after we eat to help regulate the blood sugar level. When we do not get enough sleep, it disrupts insulin production and lowers the body’s tolerance for glucose.
Impact on the Cardiovascular System
Sleep plays a vital role in the health of the heart and blood vessels. It affects blood pressure, blood sugar level, and inflammation. When the body does not get enough sleep, it is at the risk of developing heart diseases.
Impact on Hormones
Hormonal production in the body is dependent on sleep. For hormone production, our body needs uninterrupted sleep. Disruption in hormone production can affect growth in children. Moreover, it can affect the building of muscle mass, repairing cells and tissues, as well as other growth functions of our body.
Finding Your Silent Night
Identification and tracking of the symptoms and sleep pattern is the first step toward overcoming sleep disorders and problems. There are many ways through which you can track your symptoms. Keeping a sleep diary can help you track day and night time habits. These habits may contribute to your sleep problems. Recording habits and sleep patterns will also help you determine whether you need to see a doctor. You should include in your diary:
The time you go to bed and wake up daily
Your perceived quality of sleep you get and the total hours you sleep
Type of food that you consume throughout the day before bed (food, alcohol, caffeine, other liquids, etc.) along with the time of consumption
Feelings or mood before sleeping
Medications or drugs, if taken, along with the dose and time
Improving Daytime Habits
Try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule and limit the consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Make sure you exercise daily. It will help you manage stress and eventually result in better sleep over the long term.
Developing a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
It will help to prepare the mind and body for sleep. Make sure the room you are sleeping in is quiet, dark, and cool. Before bed, avoid eating anything heavy and taking too many fluids. You can take a warm shower, listen to soothing music, read, and turn off the screens at least an hour before sleeping.
Remaining Passively Awake
It is also known as paradoxical intention. Worrying about not being able to sleep leads to anxiety and keeps you awake. So trying too hard to get sleep is not the answer. Instead, stop worrying about it, which can help you unwind and fall asleep paradoxically.
Relaxation techniques can help you relax at night by relieving tension and anxiety. They prepare your body to fall asleep. Some of the techniques you can use to achieve relaxation are:
Abdominal Breathing: Breathing fully and deeply through not only the chest but also the lower back, belly, and ribcage helps you relax. Close your eyes and take slow and deep breaths. Try taking a breath deeper than the last one you took. Inhale through your nose and exhale it out through the mouth.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Sit somewhere comfortable. Tense your muscles as tightly as you can. When you tense your muscles, hold for a few seconds and then relax. Start with your feet. Do this to every muscle group in your body and work your way up to the top of your head.
Mindfulness Meditation: Sit in a quiet place. Focus on your breathing and how you feel at the moment. Allow all your emotions and thoughts to come and go. Do it without judgment and always direct your focus to breathing and body.
Several natural remedies can help you with your sleep disorders and issues.
Magnesium helps quiet the mind and body and makes it easier to fall asleep. Make sure to achieve the required magnesium intake through your diet. Magnesium has relaxing properties and regulates the production of melatonin that induces sleep.
An amino acid known as Glycine plays an important role in sleep improvement. It affects the nervous system, lowers the body temperature at bedtime, and signals the body to sleep. It can be found in a pill or powder form and used easily. However, the amount needs to be prescribed by a doctor.
Massage therapy is also effective and beneficial for people with insomnia. It helps improve sleep quality as well as daytime dysfunction.
Engaging in moderate exercise for at least 20 minutes a day can help you with getting better sleep. You can add some vigorous aerobic exercises and strength training as well. Find the best time for exercise that suits you best and have a positive impact on your sleep.
You see, all of the above techniques can help you sleep. However, it depends on how invested you are in improving your sleeping habit. The effort of improving your sleep takes time to show its results. Often, the delay in seeing results leads people to go off-track their healthy routine. If you find yourself feeling discouraged with the pace, remember that these therapies and remedies are effective for sleep disorders in the long run. You will reap the benefit of your efforts if you stick and see through it.