If you have trouble falling to sleep or finding time for sleep, you are not alone. Although seven to nine hours of sleep a night is recommended by health experts everywhere, a 2012 Survey found that almost one-third (29%) of adults in the United States sleep for less than 6 hours each night. Understandably, life can get in the way of your bedtime routine, however, practicing unstable sleeping habits could have negative short and long-term effects on your physical and mental health.

 

Sleep on Physical Health

A sufficient amount of sleep will help one function throughout the day. Anything less than seven hours can trigger short-term effects such as drowsiness and concentration issues. These sound like little problems, but when your production at work is decreasing, you are putting your job at risk, which can lead to financial strains. Drowsiness can also cause accidents behind the wheel, putting yourself and other drivers in danger as well.

 

Here are some long-term health effects sleep deprivation can bring about:

Stunts Growth: For children and young adults, over eight hours of sleep is encouraged, as deep sleep triggers the release of special hormones that increase muscle mass, regulate puberty and fertility, repair cells, and promote overall healthy growth.1

Weight Gain: Don’t you love when you wake up feeling super light and skinny? Not only does sleeping burn calories, but it also affects your levels of leptin and ghrelin – two hormones which control feelings of hunger and fullness. Leptin tells your brain that you have had enough to eat, but sleep deprivation reduces leptin and raises ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant, causing you to eat at abnormal times of the night.2

Memory Loss: Sleep is essential for processing memories. When in deep sleep, your brain begins organizing and consolidating memories. The longer you sleep, the more memories you can store. Not getting enough sleep can impede your ability to remember important details.1

Weakened Immune System: While you sleep, your immune system produces protective substances like antibodies and cytokines.2 Therefore, a lack of sleep will make it harder for your body to fight out viruses like the flu, the common cold, or even COVID-19. It also leaves you more vulnerable to chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and more.

Sleep deprivation can also lead to impaired balance and coordination and a decreased sex drive.

Sleep on Mental Health

It is very common for one to feel irritable after a night of tossing and turning. But if you constantly find yourself waking up on the wrong side of the bed, it may be time to make a change because sleep deprivation can lead to several short-term mental struggles such as stress and mood swings. See the chart below. A lack of sleep makes you feel tired, which brings difficulty in performing basic daily functions, leading to low self-esteem, then stress, which results in a lack of sleep; it is a never-ending cycle.3

Sleep deprivation can also lead to or worsen more serious mental health issues, such as:

Depression: Sleep refreshes the mind and body, and without it, we are trapped with all the negative energy we have collected throughout the day, creating signs of depression. Depression and sleep deprivation have a bidirectional relationship, meaning those with depression could have sleep problems, or those with sleep problems could end up becoming depressed.

Anxiety: Like depression, the relationship between anxiety and sleep deprivation can go in either direction. Although it is normal for everyone to feel anxious at times, studies have shown those who do not get enough sleep often feel more anxious than those who do.4 Sleep deprivation can also bring signs of more serious anxiety disorders to the forefront, such as PTSD.

ADHD: ADHD affects approximately 5.3% of children between the ages of six and 17 years old, and it is common for one living with ADHD to experience sleep deprivation. When the two disorders collide, it can cause children to become even more hyperactive, inattentive, and emotionally unstable than usual.

Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating periods of depressed and elevated moods. Studies show that people with bipolar disorder have more delicate internal clock mechanisms and reduced or irregular sleep patterns can cause symptoms of mania or hypomania.5

 

Types of Sleeping Disorders

For some people, the problem is not finding time to go to sleep but falling asleep once you are in bed. If you have this problem, you may have one of the following diagnosed sleeping disorders:

Insomnia: Insomnia is the most common sleeping disorder, with nearly 1/3 of people admitting they have difficulty sleeping at least one night a week.6 According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s ICSD-3 manual, insomnia is defined as “persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation or quality.” People with this disorder suffer from tiredness and fatigue during the day, impairing their ability to perform basic daily tasks due to a lack of sleep at night.

There are two types of insomnia: sleep-onset and sleep-maintenance. The former refers to difficulty falling asleep, while the latter refers to difficulty staying asleep. In some people, these symptoms shift throughout time.7

Sleep Apnea: Approximately 2-9% of adults are diagnosed with sleep apnea,8 a disorder in which the body takes in less oxygen, causing pauses in breath and awakening in the middle of the night. Obstructive sleep apnea is where the flow of air stops because the airway space is blocked, while central sleep apnea is where there is an issue between the brain the muscles that control your breath.9

Parasomnias: Parasomnia is a sleep disorder that causes abnormal behavior during sleep. There are plenty of parasomnia behaviors; talking in your sleep, sleepwalking, nightmares/night terrors, and bedwetting are among the most common. REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is when you act out what is going on in your dream. This includes grabbing, punching, and kicking, which could be dangerous if you are close to another person.10 Other less-common behaviors include hallucinations, texting, scratching (which can cause cuts and bleeding), and sexsomnia (acting out sexual behaviors during sleep).

Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy, also known as a “sleep attack,” causes those with the disorder to suddenly feel extremely tired and fall asleep with little to no warning. Although rare, as it only affects 1 in every 2,000 individuals,11 it can be very dangerous if you are driving, operating machinery, or in an unsafe location. Narcolepsy can also cause sleep paralysis, which can make you physically unable to move after waking up.

 

If any of these do not sound like you, then your inability to fall and stay asleep may be attributed to an internal or external factor. Whether an urinary issue, a psychological issue such as stress, or a family/life issue such as a new baby, outside noises, etc., the secret to a good night’s sleep is ‘no disruption,’ so you must find a way to be at peace for the next 7-9 hours. 

 

Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

If you are struggling to find peace at night, it may be time to make a change. There are plenty of things that you can do and cut out of your bedtime routine to improve your sleep quality:

Lifestyle Changes: If you are an avid smoker or drink a lot of alcohol and/or coffee, you are negatively affecting your sleep quality. Alcohol depresses the nervous system, which helps people initially fall asleep, but when the effects wear off you are more likely to wake up. Nicotine and caffeine increase heart rate, which can keep you up if consumed later in the day.12

Exercise: Regular physical activity helps people not only fall asleep faster but stay in deep sleep as well! This can range anywhere from an up-tempo run, yoga, or simply stretching before bed.

Minimal intake before bed: It is not good to consume a large meal or drink a lot of liquids before bed. Studies have shown that meals high in carbohydrates can impair your sleep quality and increase the number of awakenings at night. Consuming a lot of water, soda or energy drinks in the evening will cause frequent urination at night, disrupting your ability to get into REM sleep.

Practice good “Sleep Hygiene”: It’s important to maintain good “sleep hygiene” to avoid sleep deprivation. This involves going to bed around the same time every night (including weekends), using the bedroom only for sleep, limiting naps, turning off electronic devices an hour prior to sleep, and keeping the room dark by sealing windows and doors shut.

Meditation, medication, and therapy: Practicing meditation, deep breathing and other relaxation techniques before bed can improve one’s sleep quality. Calming your nerves and cleansing your mind will help you focus on a good night’s sleep instead of work or whatever stress you have coming your way soon. If you still need some assistance, seek a sleep professional or try one of these medications, but be aware of its side-effects!

 

Living by the phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” will only get you there faster. Sleep is the world’s best form of recovery and we are supposed to spend around one-third of our lives in bed; it is a necessity we cannot skip out on. A better motto to live by is Arthur Schopenhauer’s “sleep is the interest we pay on the loan of life,” and you should be eager to pay it off.

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REFERENCES

  1. Pacheco, Danielle. “Physical Health and Sleep: How Are They Connected?” Sleep Foundation, One Care Media Company, 27 Oct. 2020.
  2. Watson, Stephanie. “11 Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 15 May 2020.
  3. “Sleep and Mental Health.” Mind, May 2020, 
  4. Cherry, Kendra. “What Impact Does Sleep Have on Mental Health?” Verywell Mind, 24 Feb. 2020.
  5. Purse, Marcia. “How Sleep Problems Can Worsen Your Bipolar Disorder Symptoms.” Verywell Mind, 15 Jan. 2020.
  6. “Sleep Disorders.” NAMI.
  7. Foley, Logan. “Insomnia – Symptoms, Types, Causes, and More.” Sleep Foundation, OneCare Media Company, 4 Sept. 2020.
  8. Pacheco, Danielle. “Obstructive Sleep Apnea – Causes & Symptoms.” Sleep Foundation, OneCare Media Company, 1 Sept. 2020.
  9. Roddick, Julie. “Sleep Disorders: Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatments.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 28 July 2020.
  10. Nunez, Kirsten. “Parasomnia (Sleep Disorder): Symptoms, Causes, Types, Treatment.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 10 Feb. 2020.
  11. Boskey, Elizabeth. “Narcolepsy.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 21 Aug. 2020.
  12. “Sleep and Mental Health.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School,  18 Mar. 2019.

 

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