By Bettyjoe Cooper
I recently wrote about improving sleep for people with diabetes and other medical conditions. But what about preventing some of those conditions in the first place?
There is no shortage of information to help us lower our risks of obesity and diabetes. Yet what is less well understood is the link between sleep and these life-threatening conditions.
One in three of us experiences poor quality sleep, stress and work often being the culprit. You may not even be aware that you are sleep deprived. There is a simple test to determine if you are suffering with sleep deprivation.
The sleep latency test
In a clip from “The Truth About…Sleep”, a documentary aired last week by the BBC, Michael Mosley shows us how to do a test which reveals whether you’re sleep-deprived. Named the “Sleep Latency Test”, all you need is a watch, a metal spoon and a tray.
To perform the test, go to bed in the middle of the afternoon and lie in a comfortable position, noting the time. Hold the spoon over the tray, which should be on the floor to the side of the bed, and try falling asleep. Once you’ve fallen asleep, your hand will drop the spoon and hit the tray, which should wake you up. When that’s happened, note the time and how long it took you to fall asleep. If it took you 15 minutes to get to sleep you’re OK; if it was 10 or under, you’re a little sleep-deprived, but if it took you less than five minutes to get to sleep, then you may have “severe sleep deprivation”, said Mosley.
If you are experiencing sleep deprivation, the risks go beyond bad moods and lack of focus. Regular sleep deprivation puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy. Medical experts agree that it’s clear that a solid night’s sleep is essential for a long and healthy life.
Are you getting enough?
Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function – but it varies. What matters is that you understand how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it.
Health conditions, such as sleep apnea, can cause poor sleep. But in most cases it’s down to bad sleeping habits.
The occasional night of poor sleep may make you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health. After several sleepless nights the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll start to feel down, and may fall asleep during the day. Your risk of injury and accidents also increases.
If your lack of quality sleep persists, it can affect your health. You will be more prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Here are some ways in which a quality sleep can boost your health:
• Improves immunity
If you are susceptible to catching colds and flu, your bedtime may be at fault. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, making it harder to fend off bugs.
• Aids with slimming
Yes, less sleep can lead to increased weight! Research has shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get seven hours.
It’s believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone).
• Prevents diabetes
Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of having or developing diabetes.
Missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose – the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel.
• Fends off heart disease
Chronic sleep deprivation seems associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.
• Boosts mental health
Chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
In a sleep habit survey of people with anxiety or depression, most of them had slept for less than six hours a night.
• Increases libido
Research shows that men and women who don’t get enough quality sleep have lower libidos and less of an interest in sex. Men who suffer from sleep apnea – a disorder in which breathing difficulties lead to interrupted sleep – also tend to have lower testosterone levels, which can lower libido.
• Improves fertility
Difficulty conceiving a baby may be one of the effects of sleep deprivation, in both men and women. Regular sleep disruptions can cause trouble conceiving by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones.
Making up the ‘sleep debt’
If you don’t get enough sleep, there’s only one way to compensate – repay that sleep debt.
It won’t happen with a single early night. If you’ve had months of restricted sleep, you’ll have built up a significant sleep debt, so recovery may take several weeks.
Starting on a weekend, try to add on an extra hour or two of sleep a night. The way to do this is to go to bed when you’re tired, and allow your body to wake you in the morning (no alarms).
Expect to sleep for upwards of 10 hours a night at first. After a while, the amount of time you sleep will gradually decrease to a normal level.
Avoid caffeine or energy drinks as a short-term solution. They may boost your energy and concentration temporarily, but can disrupt your sleep patterns even further in the long term.
• Bettyjoe Cooper is a self-published author and the founder of Brand New Mattress Co, a retailer of bedding products located in the Hummingbird Plaza, Coral Harbour Road, Nassau. Call 698-4609 for more information.