How the Lack of a Good Night’s Sleep can Affect your Life.

Posted by martin.parnell |

I don’t need to tell you that there’s nothing quite like a good night’s sleep. It means you’ll wake in the morning feeling refreshed, re-energized and ready to face the day.

Having said that, we also know how rotten we can be left feeling when we don’t get an undisturbed night. When we toss and turn and think we haven’t slept at all and the only thing that tells us otherwise is the fact that we wake up, in the morning! 

Many studies have shown the detrimental effects of lack of sleep. Why else would it be used as a form of torture? I did some reading and it became clear that there are obvious downsides to being overtired, we forget things, we get cranky and we feel less sociable. You have to admit that you don’t function well after a night of poor sleep and work can suffer as a result. That’s because sleep fuels our cognitive processes, attention span, mental alertness, focus, concentration, thinking, communication, learning, and reasoning abilities. 

Some effects that we may not think about are the health issues a lack of sleep can trigger. These include:

Depression - A 2005 sleep study actually found that individuals diagnosed with clinical depression sleep an average of 6 hours a night or less, while those diagnosed with insomnia were approximately 5 times more prone to depression and anxiety disorders.

A decrease in libido - Studies have traced lack of sleep directly to lowered libido in both men and women, due to lack of energy, frustration, and stress. For men with sleep-depriving conditions, testosterone levels may actually decrease.

Weight Gain -Sleep deprivation can lead to poor, sugar-rich, high fat, processed food choices. And when you’re robbed of sleep for a few days in a row, you’re more likely to succumb to hunger and convenience foods while having little energy for exercise, which inevitably leads to weight gain.

If you are a true insomniac, you may be at risk of developing conditions including cardiovascular issues, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Not to mention the dangers it can cause. Nobody should be driving, operating machinery or even doing that spot of DIY, if they are overtired. Mistakes can be made and they can be costly.

Would you want an exhausted person driving your child’s school bus or rewiring your house if they were asleep on their feet? Of course not. So, if lack of sleep is so bad for us adults, what effect can it have on our children?

A recent CBC report highlighted a study published in the current issue of the journal Sleep Medicine, which examined data from two surveys of U.S. adolescents conducted over many years, from 2009 to 2015, "When the mobile technology really saturated the market among adolescents," said Zlatan Krizan, a psychologist specializing in sleep and social behaviour at Iowa State University and co-author of the study. 

They included questions about how many hours of sleep they reported getting. Almost 370,000 adolescents participated. It appears that teens are getting less sleep than they did before smartphones became commonplace, prompting concerns about potentially serious health consequences.

Over the course of that six-year period, they found "a seismic shift in the amount of sleep that a typical teen gets," said Krizan. He and his colleagues found that teens were 16 to 17 per cent more likely to report getting less than seven hours of sleep a night in 2015 than they were in 2009.  The recommended amount of sleep for 13 to 18-year-olds is 8 to 10 hours per night, according to the U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers looked at other factors besides electronic devices that might affect the amount of sleep teens were getting, including working after school, homework and watching TV, but the number of hours spent on those activities remained "relatively stable or reduced" between 2009 and 2015. 

"The only factor that also increased during the time that could be responsible for the shortened sleep is social media, news online and the kind of activities that mobile phones are used for," Krizan said. “Teens who used the technology for two hours or less a day didn't appear to suffer any adverse effects on their sleep. But once you get five hours of use a day or more, you really see a heavily curtailed sleep.”   

Getting enough sleep in adolescence is "crucial," the study noted. In addition to immediate effects, such as performance in school, sleep habits established in the teen years can contribute to sleep patterns and health for adulthood. As in adults, lack of sleep in teens, has been linked to health problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to depression and substance use. 

When it comes to younger children, "If children are not sleeping well the consequences may be problems with behaviour, attention, learning, and memory," says Dr. Shelly Weiss, author of Better Sleep for Your Baby & Child: A Parent's Step-by-Step Guide to Healthy Sleep Habits and Pediatric Program Director at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. 

So, it would appear that lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on all of us. I know it’s easy for me to point out the issues relating to lack of sleep, but not so easy to come up with a solution to deal with it.

I have read several suggestions:  herbal remedies, sipping warm milk and honey before bedtime, creating a “sleep-friendly” environment, adopting a bedtime ritual, taking a hot bath, melatonin etc. The list goes on. 

At the end of the day, if lack of sleep becomes an issue with you, talk to your family doctor.  After all, it’s far more sensible than putting your health, safety, sanity or work in jeopardy.

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