Numerous medical studies have reported on the importance of good quality sleep in our lives, but our current lifestyle, poor work-life balance, exercise and diet have compromised our sleep health to a great deal. Many focus on maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime but often neglect their sleep. According to a study reported by World Economic Forum in 2019, around 62% of adults worldwide believe that they don’t sleep well at night after going to bed. Poor sleep or a lack of good quality sleep is linked to various health conditions such as heart disease and cardiac failure, weak immune system, kidney disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. The immediate effects of poor sleep can be car accidents due to drowsiness. Some companies such as Wakefit have started launching products and solutions designed to improve sleep quality.
How does the Sleep Cycle Work?
Our bodies follow a circadian cycle that repeats in our internal body clock at a frequency of 24 hours. This cycle is influenced by internal and external cues which regulate the chemical compounds released. Our sleep/wake cycle is decided by the compounds produced and the chemical reactions between them. Adenosine, Melatonin and Cortisol are the internal cues or chemicals that work together in harmony to regular our sleep/wake cycle. Adenosine works gradually and builds our need to sleep throughout the day. Melatonin makes us feel drowsy and signals our body to become ready for sleep. While cortisol triggers our body to wake up. External cues that influence our sleep are light, darkness and sound.
Most adults require at least 7 hours of sleep to ensure smooth cognitive and behavioural functions. It is safe to say that good health is determined by sleep health, and we must educate ourselves on the importance of sleep, sleep-deprived disorders, natural sleep remedies and ways to ensure we get good sleep.
Poor sleep can trigger the onset of various health diseases and psychological disorders, some of which are listed below:
- Type 2 Diabetes
When our body is sleep-deprived, a natural reaction can be insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced in our body to regulate blood sugar levels by converting glucose into energy and breaking down fats and proteins. Insulin resistance can thus lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, a metabolic condition of the body that leads to high sugar levels in the blood.
Since sleep deprivation can cause insulin resistance in our body, this causes obesity due to a poor metabolic state. So, obesity is one of the sleep related disorders. As a result, glucose and fats are not metabolised properly by our body, leading to storage in the form of fat reserves in the adipose tissues. In addition to this, poor sleep disrupts the natural balance of our body’s hormones, leading to cravings for unhealthy food that is high in calories.
- Weak immune system
The body’s immune system is essential to fighting off external invaders such as bacteria, viruses and fungi and helps keep infectious diseases at bay. Sleep deprivation can weaken our immune system and thus affect our ability to fight infections. Such people can become sick more often and recover slowly compared to healthy individuals.
- Heart disease
The body is designed to sleep and rest for at least 7-9 hours a day to undergo body restoration processes during which the heart rate and blood pressure are lowered. If our body gets poor sleep, it may not be able to achieve an extended body restoration cycle, thus leading to higher blood pressure during the day and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases over time.
- Poor memory retention
Our sleep consists of various stages: the REM (rapid eye movement) stage, which occurs around 90 minutes after falling asleep. Various studies have linked this stage of sleep to memory storage in which our body converts our life experiences and things we learn into long-term memories. If we experience a lack of sleep, this may ultimately result in poor memory consolidation and affect our brain’s ability to remember important information.
How can we Improve our Sleep Health?
Besides seeking professional help from sleep therapists and counsellors, we can take small steps in our daily lives to ensure we get good quality sleep:
- Establish a strict bedtime routine and stick to it on all days, including weekends.
- Maintain a comfortable sleep environment by regulating temperature, low light levels and sound-free zone.
- Make yourself comfortable by using the best mattress for sleep and comfort pillows for sleep. It is impossible to get good sleep when you are uncomfortable with the environment.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol intake at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. Instead, drink warm milk, tart cherry juice and chamomile tea prescribed to patients who experience sleep disorders like insomnia.
- Exercise: Set aside 5 days a week to practice physical activity or exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Physical exercise can improve sleep as it is proved that moderate aerobic exercise is one of the main benefits of good sleep.
In this busy lifestyle, all of us are chasing after worldly luxuries when in fact, health is the real wealth. And an important part of your overall health is sleep health. It is high time we owe our bodies the rest it deserves.