In the modern way of living, adequate sleep is often considered a luxury. Trying to keep up with a fast-paced modern world, full of stress and responsibilities, often results in overlooking the importance of getting enough rest.
We all know the feeling of fatigue when we do not sleep well. What is less well known is that lack of sleep greatly affects the regulation of basic mechanisms of our bodily functions and has a direct impact on our health and well-being.
What happens to our body when we do not sleep well?
Chronic sleep deprivation results in a loss of energy. It is remarkable how much oxidative stress increases. Inflammations begin to appear and gradually intensify. Loss of circadian rhythm control through genetic expression disrupts hormone signaling and cell-to-cell communication.
There is a growing predisposition to numerous chronic health disorders, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, arthritis and autoimmunity.
The most common problems which are related to sleep deprivation are:
- Increased inflammation
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Digestive problems and intestinal motility problems
- Loss of function and performance at work
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Increased predisposition to mood disorders – depression, anxiety and irritability
- Increased sensitivity to accidents and mistakes
- Increased sensitivity to pain and discomfort
- Hormonal imbalance
The need for sleep is unique
A good night’s sleep is one that lasts long enough to meet our biological needs. Every person’s sleep needs change with age, activity level and other aspects of a person’s health.
Newborns, as we all know, sleep most of the day – an average of fourteen to seventeen hours. The need for sleep gradually decreases with age. Adolescents need an average of eight to ten hours, young adults seven to nine hours on average, and adults aged twenty-six to sixty-four an average of seven to eight hours.
The restorative properties of sleep
There are two main phases of sleep, that are referred to as non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM).
NREM is divided into four stages: the first which is the lightest stage and then the stages two to four, where in each one the sleep gradually becomes deeper. Each of the sleep stages has unique brain wave patterns as well as eye and muscle movement characteristics.
REM cycles are characterized by seemingly chaotic brainwave activity, muscle paralysis, and rapid eye movement. This is the moment we dream of.
During sleep, we complete the NREM and REM cycles several times during the night. We spend most of our time sleeping in NREM and almost twenty-five percent in REM.
If we are unable to maintain enough time in the deeper stages of sleep, due to interruptions or conditions that act as a hindrance, the restorative properties of deep sleep will not operate properly. This will lead to fatigue and eventually, damage and diseases mentioned above.
Restoration of healthy sleep
Our deepest recovery and healing is achieved while we sleep.
Pain, excessive stress, menopausal symptoms, urinary tract problems, obstructive sleep apnea, disorders of limb movement and metabolic problems which are caused by thyroid or adrenal dysfunction are just a few of the causes of chronic sleep disorders.
Laboratory tests for thyroid and adrenal function, iron levels, nutrient levels and inflammatory markers are essential. The diagnosis of recurrent limb movement (PLM) or apnea is important. PLM leads to awakenings from the deeper stages of sleep, reducing its restorative properties. Apnea leads to oxygen deprivation as well as frequent awakenings, equally reducing the quality of sleep.
For the most of us, sleep disorders are a matter of lifestyle – we can easily correct it with the right knowledge about its impact and the intention to improve this deeply valuable and necessary part of our lives.
Remember, sleep is as vital to your health as nutrition, exercise and all other aspects of your life that are of paramount importance.
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