Even those of us who are not constantly tired agree that devoting an entire day to sleep – such as World Sleep Day on March 14 – is a great idea.
However, it’s important to remember that the day is not just designed to encourage those who burn the candle at both ends to slow down a bit. It is also a great time to point out the very real risks we face when we don’t get enough sleep.
When we sleep, we’re giving our body and brain a chance to recover from the day’s activities and are allowing our muscles to heal. Both require deep, quality slumber, and if we don’t get it, we begin our new day exhausted from the minute we wake up, without having had the restorative sleep that rejuvenates skin cells, keeps our energy levels high and ensures that our minds are rested enough to be productive throughout the day.
But even if you do get the ‘recommended’ eight or nine hours sleep, you may not be experiencing quality sleep. And if that’s the case, you will not be getting the full benefit of sleep.
Apnea kills quality sleep
One of the biggest deterrents to restful sleep is obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially fatal disease that for good reason was the primary focus of last year’s World Sleep Day. Obstructive sleep apnea not only interrupts deep sleep, but can also cause lapses in breathing that could lead to death.
Apnea is caused by a variety of factors including smoking, obesity, age or physical characteristics such as sagging throat muscles that partially block airways, a thick neck or receding chin, a deviated septum or enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
Experts believe that former professional football player Reggie White died from sleep apnea. A facility in Wisconsin devoted to raising awareness of sleep apnea is named after White and was co-founded by his wife, Sara White, in an effort to prevent other needless deaths.
Experts say a person with sleep apnea is likely to snore and will sometimes seem to choke in his or her sleep.
Awareness is particularly important because many of those who have sleep apnea don’t know it. In fact, sufferers usually learn about their sleep apnea from their partners, who are often kept awake themselves by the snoring and then have an opportunity to notice the lapses in breathing.
Of course, sleep apnea cases often mean that the sleep of both partners is compromised. Research has shown that snoring is one of the leading causes of divorce worldwide, topping infidelity and money woes. It led New Zealand writer Jennifer Ross-Taylor to pen the book “Is Snoring Destroying Your Relationship While You Sleep?”
So important is getting a good night’s sleep, it would seem as through saving a life by pointing out a partner’s sleep apnea does little to counteract the frustration of exhaustion.
If you’re tired and you’re not sure if sleep apnea is responsible, symptoms include snoring that wakes you up, morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, poor concentration and irritability.
The cost of sleep deprivation
Sleep apnea symptoms are similar to those of sleep deprivation, also a chronic problem and one that also has the potential to become fatal, though for different reasons.
Sleepiness leads to an increased risk of accidents.
Sleep deprivation increases your risk of falling asleep behind the wheel and can be as dangerous as driving drunk when it comes to reaction times. Experts say that thousands of car accidents each year are caused by sleep deprivation because drivers are too slow and sluggish to react quickly enough to avoid road hazards.
It’s not just on the road that there’s a risk for those chronically deprived of sleep. Some of the biggest disasters in history are linked to sleep deprivation, including nuclear accidents at both Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Workers in dangerous jobs are at a higher risk of work-related injuries when they’re tired as well.
Being tired makes you stupid.
As harsh as it may sound, it’s true! One of the biggest requirements for active learning is a ready and active brain. Without enough sleep, your brain is less able to focus, less alert, less able to concentrate and less able to solve problems. When it comes to learning, getting enough sleep is a critical component.
Sleep deprivation can put your health at risk in numerous ways.
Experts say that 90 percent of those with insomnia, the most common sleep disorder, also suffer from some other health ailment.
A lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, because we often reach for sugary snacks to boost our sense of alertness when we’re tired. In addition to this, being tired reduces our willpower, making unhealthy foods harder to avoid.
Sleep deprivation can lead to diabetes, experts say. “There is some evidence that sleep deprivation could lead to a pre-diabetic state,” according to Dr. Mark Mahowald, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center. Mahowald said the way the body reacts to sleep loss is similar to insulin resistance, when cells fail to use insulin efficiently and blood sugar soars. When levels are too high, it can lead to damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart.
Research has shown that a lack of sleep can be as damaging to our hearts as smoking or being obese. Heart disease, heart failure and heart attacks are more likely for those who don’t get enough sleep. Lack of sleep leads to increased inflammation and the increased release of stress hormones, leading to high blood pressure and unwanted strains on the heart.
Sleep deprivation opens the doors to depression.
Chronic sleep deprivation is often linked to depression and anxiety, though there is a catch-22 aspect to this equation. While the lack of sleep can aggravate the symptoms of depression, depression and anxiety can make it trickier to fall asleep. The treatment of either can usually ease symptoms of both.
f you’re not getting enough sleep, your quality of life will suffer.
Let’s face it; if you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re probably a little cranky. That irritability can easily spread into your relationships – both personal and work-related.
You can put your partner’s health at risk as well.
If you are living with a partner and you are tossing and turning from insomnia or are snoring like a freight train from sleep apnea, you’re probably ensuring that your partner isn’t getting a good night’s sleep either. Even as the numerous times you wake up and roll over impact your own quality of sleep, your partner is on the other side of the bed, experiencing the same sleep interruptions. While those who snore have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression and high blood pressure, the health risks can be just as dangerous for the spouse who has diminished sleep from sharing the same bed.
Foods can derail sleep
While stress, sleep apnea and other health problems may be responsible for your lack of a good night’s sleep, it could be the foods you’re eating that are keeping you up all night.
While most of us realize that caffeine should be avoided after 1 or 2 pm, there are other foods that should be avoided close to bedtime to improve your sleep.
Heavy, fat-laden meals (think burgers and fries or multi-meat pizzas) rev up your digestive system, so your body doesn’t really get a chance to slow down for the night. A nightcap might seem like a good idea, but when the alcohol wears off, you could find yourself awake again and tossing and turning,
Spicy foods are also a bad choice at night, primarily because when the digestive system slows during sleep, your food doesn’t digest as quickly, and you could experience heartburn.
Create a sleeping environment
Make sure your bedroom is designed for sleep and nothing else. Skip the TV, and make your bedroom a zone free of personal electronics like laptops, tablets etc.
Decorate the walls with soothing colors and make sure that bed linens and pillows are plush and comfy to promote soothing sleep.
Go natural and avoid sleeping pills
While you might be tempted to try popping a prescription pill in order to get a good night’s rest, you might want to think again.
For example, people who have taken the prescription drug Ambien have reported instances of sleep walking, sleep eating and sleep driving, making the drug a potentially dangerous option.
Instead, you could choose a dietary supplement such as Xtend-Life’s Neuro-Natural Sleep. It’s a synergistic blend containing an array of extracts including hops, valerian root, passionflower and hawthorn, which are known to help support restful sleep. However, this would simply be used as part of a lifestyle to assist with optimizing your likelihood of quality sleep and avoiding dependence of pharmaceuticals with potentially dangerousside-effects.