Are you sleeping enough to stay alive?
|February 2, 2012||Posted by Alaa Jasim under lifestyle, science|
When you visit the doctor, what are you asked? “How can I help you today?” or maybe “What are your symptoms?”
But how frequently are you asked about your sleeping patterns? “Do you sleep well?” “Do you get as much sleep as you should?” “Do you often wake up in the middle of the night?” “Do you find it hard to drift off?” “Do you wake up still feeling lethargic?” These are all signs of insomnia – and insomniacs, believe it or not, are at a higher risk of serious disease and life-threatening illness than those who sleep well. Sleep is extremely important and I think people don’t appreciate just how significant a good kip is.
High blood pressure, depression, diabetes. These are all things that can develop if insomnia is left untreated, and none of them are particularly pleasant. And yet insomnia often manifests without attention because people don’t think to recognise it. About a quarter of adults have sleep problems and about one in ten actually have insomnia. The fact of the matter is, not getting enough sleep can be life-threatening and, well, potentially fatal.
People who suffer from insomnia are around seven times more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs; but, rather worryingly, the usual over-the-counter medicines that people turn to have little evidence of effectiveness. The subject of drugs for insomnia doesn’t seem to have been well researched. Supposedly, cognitive behaviour therapy and hypnotic drugs are more effective at treating insomniacs. When sleep is such an important factor of our lives, why haven’t sleep therapies and treatments been investigated further? Because in the grand scheme of things, maybe sleep doesn’t actually seem that important. But it really is.
So the question is, are you sleeping enough to stay alive? Or rather, are you sleeping enough to keep the risk of serious illness at bay? As we get older, we need sleep less than we used to, but the amount we still need is a pretty significant proportion of the night. Studies show that teens and preteens, in other words 12-18 year olds, need between 8.5 and 10 hours of sleep in order for their brains and bodies to function properly. Over-18s need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep to do so.
So now it falls to us to ask, how sleep deprived are you? Signs of sleep deprivation include relying on the snooze function of your alarm clock, feeling sleepy in crowded or warm rooms, needing to nap during the day, falling asleep whilst watching TV, feeling sluggish in the afternoons, feeling the need to sleep in on weekends, and having a hard time getting up in the mornings. If you experience any of these things, it’s probably about time you rethink and adjust your sleep schedule.
But there is another, even worse level: sleep deprivation and chronic lack of sleep. If you experience any of these symptoms, you really, really need to have a think about your sleep schedule. Things that constitute a chronic lack of sleep are: lethargy, fatigue, lack of motivation, moodiness and irritability, reduced problem solving ability, inability to cope with stress, reduced immunity, weight gain, and difficulty making decisions. These things can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and other genuinely frightening health problems. Pulling an all-nighter isn’t looking so good right about now, is it?
Our next problem: how do we go about sleeping better? Keeping a regular sleep pattern is essential. Try going to bed at either the same time, or similar times every day. Routine can be a big part of keeping your sleep schedule right. Eating right and getting enough exercise is also pretty important. Try not to eat big meals at night, avoid alcohol near to bedtime, and avoid drinking too much before bed – you don’t want to be getting up in the night to go to the bathroom and making everything that little bit worse.
Insomnia is a bigger problem than everyone thinks. Lack of sleep and sleep deprivation can really mess with our lives. In some places, sleep deprivation has been used as a torture method; we don’t want to be doing that to ourselves! Perhaps people need to know more about sleep to, well, sleep, and I think it’s pretty clear that a lot of us don’t sleep well at all. So, are we sleeping enough to stay alive? Rather frighteningly, not always. But we should be.
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute medical advice. If you require help or advice, you should consult your doctor.