Sleep deprivation? Insomnia? What are the health risks of chronic lack of sleep?

Sleep deprivation? Insomnia? What are the health risks of chronic lack of sleep?

Lack of sleep is a common problem. I see it in clients with depression, stress and anxiety, as well as those who are too 'busy' to get a decent night's sleep. But, apart from exhaustion, do you know that there are also some serious health risks attached to chronic lack of sleep?

Do you like to party a lot? Do you often work through most of the night while you should be sleeping? Or maybe you suffer from insomnia linked to depression, stress, anxiety or even menopause?

Many of us believe that we can get by on a few hours shut eye and still expect to be bright eyed and bushy tailed the next day. Unfortunately, not getting eight hours a night of quality sleep will eventually take its toll on you and affect your health, your work and your personal life.

We look at the negative effects of sleep deprivation and what you can do to get a better night’s rest.

The risks of not getting enough sleep

When last did you have a good night’s sleep? You’ve heard this before, “getting a good night’s rest is important”, but how many of us actually make sleep the priority we should?

There are a number of risk factors associated with loss of sleep. Studies show that a lack of sleep can affect your overall health, work performance and your relationships.

1. Sleep deprivation affects your thinking and learning patterns

Not getting enough sleep definitely impacts your cognitive processes. Take a moment to think about how productive you are at work after a poor night’s sleep. Not great, right? You feel groggy, your brain is foggy and you are unable to concentrate. You are also probably forgetful and irritable! 

When you are tired, it is very difficult to feel alert, attentive, make decisions, reason or solve problems. Lack of sleep slows you down, impairs your judgement and often causes confusion. Not only that, your memory also suffers and you will find that you have trouble recalling what you did the previous day as your brain has not had the opportunity to consolidate your memories while you were sleeping. 

Sleep plays a crucial role in our overall health because it improves our memory, ability to learn and function effectively.  During the night, different phases of sleep help to consolidate new information learned during the day into memories that may be accessed in the future.

If your sleep is disrupted, these sleep cycles are affected and this interferes with your short-term and long-term memory.

2. Sleep deprivation can cause serious health problems

Studies show that a chronic lack of sleep can increase your risk for a number of health issues such as

• High blood pressure
• Stroke
• Diabetes
• Heart attack
• Heart disease
• Obesity

3. Lack of sleep can lead to depression

Insomnia and depression can be a bit of a vicious cycle. Insufficient sleep can contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression (making a good night's sleep even more important to people with depression or anxiety!). However, insomnia is often one of the symptoms of depression - as people with depression are most likely to have trouble sleeping!

4. Sleep deprivation can cause accidents

Sleep loss can lead to accidents and poor quality sleep can also contribute to more injuries and errors at the workplace which then decreases productivity.

By improving your sleep habits, you will not only save your own life but possibly, the lives of others.

5. Excessive sleepiness affects sex drive

Sleep loss and sleep disorders can affect libido and decrease interest in sex. Studies show that both men and women suffering from sleep deprivation also report problems with their sex lives.

Not getting enough sleep leads to depleted energy levels, sleepiness as well as tension and anxiety in relationships

6. Lack of sleep can affect relationships

When you are well rested, you are more able to cope with stress of all kinds, but when you are feeling tired and run down, you are more likely to be grumpy and irritable.

This can lead to difficulties and arguments in relationships with partners and children.

7. Sleep deprivation can compromise immunity

Our immune systems restore themselves and recover during sleep. Research shows that people who regularly do not have enough sleep are far more likely to have lowered immunity than those who do - making them more susceptible to infection.

8. Sleep is a weighty matter!

Studies show that people who have insufficient sleep are more inclined to put on weight and also find it more difficult to lose weight. This is because lack of sleep affects your adrenal glands and does not give them time to recover at the end of every day. 

If you are packing on the pounds or trying to slim down, make sure that you pay attention to your sleep hygiene as well!

How to beat insomnia and achieve a better night’s rest

There are a few simple strategies that can help you achieve a better night’s sleep and also promote healthier sleeping patterns and good all round health!

1. Stick to a sleep schedule 

Babies and young children need regular sleep schedules and adults are no different in order to have better quality sleep. If you are going to bed at different times every night – 9.45pm, then 11.30 pm the following night and during the early hours of the morning over weekends, then you will have a greater chance of experiencing sleep issues.

Try to go to bed at more or less the same time every day, including weekends and holidays. Establishing a regular schedule helps to train your body and brain to fall asleep and wake up at fixed times. This is even more important if you are struggling with insomnia. 

Try to keep all electronic devices, including TV's, computers, tablets and mobile phones out of the bedroom and make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible, in order to signal to your body that it is night time. 

2. Watch what you eat and drink before bedtime

Certain foods and beverages can affect your sleep patterns and leave you tossing and turning at night. Avoid eating fatty foods or heavy meals just before you have to turn in because they will disrupt your sleep cycle.

While you shouldn’t go to bed on a full stomach, you shouldn’t also go to sleep hungry. Limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine and foods or beverages high in sugar as these stimulants can also interfere with quality sleep.

3. Exercise regularly

Regular exercise improves the quality of your sleep and promotes healthier sleep patterns. Exercising will help to strengthen and tone your body, relax and lift your mood and spirits. In addition, exercise is good for stress management. If stress is keeping you out of sleep, then exercise is one of the best things you can do to help that!

Take care not to exercise too close to bedtime or you will be too energized to sleep.

4. Create a comfortable bedroom

If you have been struggling to sleep, check that your bedroom is not the problem. The space that you sleep in should be comfortable and serene – this is your sanctuary where you can relax and unwind in.

Choose soothing colours for your bedroom wall colour and linen so that the space feels calm and soothing. Invest in a quality mattress and pillows so that you are guaranteed a good night’s rest.

Make sure that your bedroom is well ventilated and not too hot or too cold.

5. Cultivate a bedtime ritual

A pre-bedtime ritual can also help to prepare you for a better night’s rest. This would largely depend on the individual,  but can include taking a long, relaxing bath, listening to music, reading a book or drinking a cup of chamomile tea.

Doing a relaxing activity before bedtime can ease you into a state of drowsiness and ensure a good night’s sleep.

Please note that falling asleep in front of the TV does not count! While it may help to relax you, it will also affect the quality of your sleep.  

6. Natural remedies can also help!

Sleep problems and insomnia are not always easy to overcome and often a helping hand is needed to achieve a good night’s rest. Many people worry about using prescription medication like sleeping tablets due to their negative side effects and risk of dependency. Luckily, natural remedies can help to promote better quality sleep and healthier sleep patterns without the side effects and risk of addiction associated with  conventional sleep medications.

I have formulated a number of natural herbal and homeopathic sleep remedies to help you overcome insomnia, achieve a better night's sleep and restore regular sleep cycles, waking fresh and rested in the morning. CLICK HERE to visit the Native Remedies website for more information on these remedies.

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