Everyone has been affected by COVID19, and many persons are feeling stressed by the economic and financial strain that’s associated with being homebound. We have all experienced, at some point, the effects that stress has on our sleep. Without academic research, we know and feel with every muscle and fiber in our body, how the lack of sleep interferes with overall well-being. Even without cutting edge technology, 17th century, English author Thomas Dekker stated, “…consider what an excellent thing sleep is…that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” We can all agree, regardless of what century we lived, how old we are, where we live or our income bracket, sleep is a necessity for healthy living, and we cannot maneuver around it!
Sleep is so vital to proper human functioning that annually, on March 13, the World Sleep Day highlights how quality sleep allows for better decision-making and cognitive understanding. The downside of restful sleep is the economic and financial burden associated with sleep problems. These problems range from the risk of labor-related and road accidents to the lack of creative ideas that pop up when we are in a deep (restorative) sleep. According to the World Sleep Society, 71,000 people suffer injuries every year due to sleep-related accidents.
Sleep prevents diseases and premature aging
Good sleep promotes the secretion of melatonin and protects the natural circadian clock, which can prevent premature aging in humans. According to Dr. Parrino, “Extending our sleep period also improves our mental and body performances during the day and, last but not least, enhances our dreaming experience.” Sleep is vital for one’s cognitive health. Restful sleep can restore your brain function in many aspects, such as learning, memory, and mood. I know for sure that when I don’t get enough restful sleep, I’m cranky, and I have severe brain fog (I can’t remember a thing). I remembered when I worked through a hurricane with my team, and we were all sleep-deprived. The negative effect of insufficient sleep or disrupted sleep affected everyone’s mood. The vibrant, positive interactions pre-hurricane was noticeably absent in the team’s relationship with each other, the way they were able to perform daily activities, and how they interact socially.
As stated on the World Sleep Day website, insomnia affects between 30-45% of the adult population. With constant poor quality sleep, there will be a decline in good health, and ultimately in a person’s quality of life. A 2017 study published by the Endocrine Society of India, established the link between poor quality sleep, shorter sleep duration, erratic sleep behavior or sleep deprivation, and significant health problems, such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, weakened immune systems, and even some cancers. Also, the lack of sleep is related to many psychological conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis.
Higher body weight, cholesterol, insulin usage, and average blood glucose over 2 to 3 months (A1C levels), as well as nerve damage (neuropathy) and cardiovascular disease — common complications of type 2 diabetes — were associated with disrupted sleep.
Hours of Sleep Needed
Healthcare personnel often focus on family medical history, diet, and weight to assess the risk of someone developing type 2 diabetes. However, sleep patterns are usually not recorded as part of the assessment. The National Sleep Foundation suggests getting as much as 7-8 hrs sleep to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The interconnected systems in the body require sleep to perform, therefore when the body doesn’t get enough sleep, the hormone insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar) malfunctions. A few hours of sleep, and being propped up throughout the day with caffeine, results in less insulin released in the body after a meal. The body will secrete more stress hormones, e.g., cortisol into the bloodstream, which helps you stay awake but makes it harder for insulin to do its job effectively. The amount of glucose that remains in the blood is high, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The other downside of the long term effect of having too little sleep is an increase in appetite—the reduction in satiety causes a craving in carbohydrates and sugary foods. Over time, indulging in these cravings or overeating can wreak havoc on insulin and blood sugar levels, as well as body weight. Besides, a lack of restful sleep or too little sleep can leave you feeling tired and less inclined to exercise, which is a problem because regular exercise helps with weight management and blood sugar control.
Elements of Good Sleep How then can we get good quality sleep when everything around us is changing, and we are challenged to make adjustments. Many persons know when they are not having a restful sleep, but what are the elements of restful sleep. Good sleep has three (3) elements. They are:
- Duration: The length of sleep should be sufficient for the sleeper to be rested and alert the following day.
- Continuity: Sleep periods should be seamless without fragmentation.
- Depth: Sleep should be deep enough to be restorative.
Sleep hygiene is defined by the National Sleep Foundation as a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness. The World Sleep Society sleep hygiene guidelines, when followed, can help to prevent poor quality nocturnal sleep, short duration of sleep, fragmentation of sleep, and severe sleep deprivation in adults. They suggest following the 11 steps to healthy sleep hygiene. They are:
- Fix a bedtime and an awakening time.
- If you are in the habit of taking siestas, do not exceed 45 minutes of daytime sleep.
- Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion 4 hours before bedtime and do not smoke.
- Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea, and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
- Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4 hours before bedtime. A light snack before bed is acceptable.
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.
- Use comfortable bedding and clothing.
- Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated.
- Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.
- Keep the room as dark as possible.
- Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom, or recreation room.
Are you still having sleep problems?
Relaxation therapies, developing good sleep hygiene, changing behaviors around sleep, medical treatment, and cognitive behavioral therapy can manage most sleep problems. Therefore if you or anyone you know is suffering from sleep complaints or excessive daytime sleepiness, see a physician and, if needed, obtain a consultation in a sleep center.
Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, says, “Sleep is central to every aspect of our well-being—our physical health, our mental health, our productivity, and our decision-making. Our world is facing huge crises on multiple fronts, and we need all the resilience, wisdom, and sound decision-making we can muster. We can’t take care of our world if we don’t take care of ourselves—and that begins with sleep.”
Sleep well and wake up refreshed and ready to face the day tomorrow.
Photo Credit: Image by Oldiefan from Pixabay
Sleep Disorders in Type 2 Diabetes https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5628550/
Type 2 Diabetes: Why Sleep Quality Matters https://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/type-2-diabetes-guide-healthy-habits/sleep-quality-matters/
The Link Between a Lack of Sleep and Type 2 Diabetes https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/link-between-lack-sleep-and-type-2-diabetes
World Sleep Day https://worldsleepday.org/toolkit