Sleep defficiency

Sleep deficiency and its influence on our life

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We don’t truly learn to value sleep until we lose it. Many children wish that they didn’t have to sleep so they can play longer. Some teenagers spend their nights with friends and try to get some sleep during the day.

For adults, things are different as we find ourselves missing sleep and feeling that we can never get enough. And when we do, it is often of poor quality.

The importance of sleep is always overlooked. Maybe it’s the fact that we do it instinctively and is part of our lives. But high-quality sleep makes us better and more efficient, while little sleep and tossing around during the night keeps us on the edge during the day and has a very big impact on our health.

An introduction to sleep deficiency

If you are reading this article, you probably have had problems with your sleep or you are feeling constantly tired. It has become an increasingly common problem in today’s society, and believe it or not, about a third of people don’t get enough sleep.

Ironically, more than half of the sleep deficient population believes that they get enough rest during the night and that they are tired for different reasons.

How much sleep should you get?

Each individual is different, and for this reason, there is not a universal formula that can be applied to everyone.

Nevertheless, we do have guidelines and, according to the Sleep Foundation, an adult should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, on any given day.

But, what about skipping a few hours during the week and making up for them on the week-end?

This is a strategy that we all can relate to, and one that kept us going for many years until… it just stopped working or we decided to have kids.  

Sleep Debt and how to pay it off?

Sleep is a very interesting phenomenon that science is only beginning to understand.

While we lose a few hours of sleep, we accumulate “Sleep debt”. This debt can be paid off, but the interest rate is very high.

According to this study, one hour of missed sleep can be recuperated in 4 days of proper sleep. If banks had such high-interest rates, most people would avoid getting a loan.

Most people don’t get enough sleep for 5 days a week, so it’s impossible to recover the debt during the weekend or during the vacation days.

This is why it’s important to sleep well every day, and if you happen to skip a few hours, plan to recover as soon as possible or else, you will never be able to make up for that lost sleep.

Dream debt

One of the most overlooked parts of sleep is R.E.M sleep. The part in which we dream and the part that has a huge influence on our lives.

R.E.M sleep is very important because:

  • It “paralyzes” most muscles, allowing them to take a well-deserved break;
  • Brain chemicals like norepinephrine (involved in “fight or flight” reaction), serotonin ( plays key roles in mood, digestion, sexual libido), and histamine (involved in allergies and inflammation) are at lower than normal levels in REM sleep
  • It allows the brain to sort through memories;
  • It lowers the fear response during the next day.

The lowering of the fear response is particularly interesting and had been researched in relation to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to this study.

Some scientists have called R.E.M. sleep the “night therapist” as it was found that people who get good sleep during the night, are more prone to “read” other people’s emotions better and to have a better and improved emotional reaction to stressful situations.

Dreams happen only during R.E.M. and we remember only the dreams that we wake up from. But, in order to get enough R.E.M. sleep, we need to sleep adequately.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

The range of symptoms that we get from sleep deficiency depends on each individual. Some signs are easy to ignore while others only show their face after many years, but tend to be very serious.

The most common symptoms don’t even look like a problem. It’s the little things like:

  • Forgetting where you left your keys;
  • Forgetting if you locked the door or where you parked the car;
  • Inability to focus;
  • Temporary, poor eyesight;
  • Strong (exacerbated) emotional reaction to stressful events;
  • Lower agility;
  • Less efficient long term memory.

 However, the most serious problems aren’t easy to spot and usually lead to various diseases that do not seem related to sleep.

  • Hormonal imbalances

Insulin is one of the many hormones affected by lack of sleep. This is why insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are strongly correlated with lack of sleep.

  • Stress hormones are higher in people who sleep less

A high level of stress hormones (like cortisol) affects everything in our body, including the immune system, which makes us prone to infections of all kinds.

  • Loss of sleep is linked to obesity

Due to the fact that sleep influences leptin, and ghrelin (the hormones that regulate food intake), the appetite will be affected and our bodies will receive mixed signals regarding how much we need to eat.

  • Heart and cardiovascular disease

During the time spent sleeping, our blood pressure is considerably lower. This means that people who sleep less are at increased risk to develop higher blood pressure and therefore more likely to experience cardiovascular diseases.

  • Slower healing

When we sleep, our body and brain work hard to fix what we broke during the day.

Even if we don’t realize it, during the day we do a lot of damage to ourselves. Pollutants lead to a build-up of free radicals that we need to eliminate. There are micro-muscles tears, small wounds, tension, and other things we are not aware of. We heal, repair, and regenerate our body’s tissues while we sleep.

  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

These are diseases that usually develop later in life, and they do correlate with poor sleep.

Insomnia was shown to increase the level of certain brain chemicals that are linked to Alzheimer’s. Excessive daytime sleepiness has also been related to Alzheimer’s disease.

It is important to note that research suggests that those who reached very old age (over 100 years old) have good sleeping habits. A positive relationship was found between sleep quality, healthy sleep habits and longevity. Furthermore, those who live long are also more likely to have healthy cholesterol levels and therefore decreased risk of heart diseases.

How to address lack of sleep

If you are not getting enough rest and it’s not by choice, finding out the underlying problem should be your top priority.

Some of the reasons behind the inability to sleep, or feeling tired after a full night’s sleep could be related to:

  • Sleep apnea;
  • Stress and anxiety;
  • Bad sleep habits;
  • Depression;
  • Medication;
  • Meal habits (ie eating late at night)
  • Various diseases (diabetes, heart diseases)

Many of these causes can be treated and your sleep will also improve along the way. Talk to a doctor to evaluate any possible condtion that can affect your sleep. Create better sleep habits : stick to a sleep schedule (go to bed and get up at the same time every day), avoid alcohol or large meals before bed time, and create a relaxing environment in your bedroom.

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