Is Sleep Deprivation Ruining Your Health?

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  • It’s World Sleep day today, which can mean only one thing: new insight into an issue that blights many of our lives: insomnia and sleep deprivation.

    A lot of us may toss and turn on a regular basis, but what is the impact to our health – and how many hours should we be spending in the land of nod every night?

    According to research published by the Washington Post, insomnia isn’t just a health issue – it’s a global economy issue, too. In their report, the US paper claimed that our collective lack of sleep costs us more than half a trillion dollars per year in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Japan. This goes some way to explain how sleep (or a lack thereof) affects us in numerous ways – and on a global scale. The battle to get a good night’s sleep, however, often feels like a deeply isolating and personal one.

    According to the NHS, there are no official guidelines as to how much sleep you should get every night – afterall, everyone’s chemistry is different. That said, a “normal” amount for an adult is generally considered to be around seven to nine hours a night.

    We’ve all read about the well-known cases that seemingly break this rule: Barack Obama, for instance, told Huffington Post last year that he was looking forward to getting more sleep once he left the White House. His daily average? Around five hours, retiring to bed at around 1am in order to get up around 7am. Margaret Thatcher, on the other hand, reportedly slept for a mere four hours a night. There are also countless self-confessed celebrity insomniacs out there who don’t work in politics, including: Madonna, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

    What are the effects of a bad night’s sleep – and how can it impact our health long-term? It’s important to highlight the difference between the short-terms effects of a single rough night compared with a lifetime of sleep disturbance or insomnia. If you occassionally struggle with an isolated case every now and then, the likelihood is that you’ll struggle with a range of symptoms throughout the day: from a lack of concentration to forgetfulness and – most crucially – impaired judgement. Although this isn’t life-changing in the long term, it’s important to be aware of these symptoms as they can impact everyday life – and even yours (or others’) safety.

    For those who suffer from chronic sleeplessness, the health risks can be significant. In fact, NHS online says that ‘persistent insomnia can have a significant impact on your quality of life,’ What does this mean exactly? According to the experts, chronic sleep loss and fatigue can put you at risk of numerous health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Sleep specialists even claim that long-term sleep disorders can lower libidos and decrease an interest in sex.

    And then there’s the link between insomnia and depression, which comes across as a confusing chicken-or-egg question. Does insomnia cause low moods or do low moods feed into the insomnia? There is evidence to suggest both: insomnia can occur as a primary condition, or it can be a symptom of something else altogether. What is certain is that more research is needed to determine the exact relationship between these overlapping disorders.

    So, how much sleep is just enough? A new report published by the Independent today says that it’s all dependent on our age. Speaking to Ann Noia, a senior clinical physiologist in neurophysiology and sleep who works at Bupa Cromwell Hospital, the Independent highlighted six points:

    1. Newborns need 16-18 hours a day.
    2. Two-year-olds typically need on average 11-13 hours.

    3. By the age of five, children will sleep between 10-12 hours.

    4. Teenagers definitely don’t sleep enough and should be getting eight to 10 hours.

    5. From the age of 20 onwards it is normal to sleep seven to nine hours.

    6. Once you’re older than 65, the amount of sleep you need actually decreases, to around five to seven hours. However, she recommends that adults sleep between seven to eight hours a night.

    Why do our sleeping patterns morph and change as we grow older? According to Noia in the above Independent report, it’s complex. The amount of sleep we need to function depends on a mixture of factors that depends on how our brain develops, our circadian rhythm (that’s our body clock), environmental factors, work pressures and social needs.

    How can we improve our sleeping pattern? Well, that’s the billion dollar question. You may want to start addressing any sleep deprivation with these NHS guidelines:

    • Setting regular times for going to bed and waking up
      relaxing before bed time
    • Try taking a warm bath or listening to calming music
    • Using thick curtains or blinds, an eye mask and earplugs to stop you being woken up by light and noise
    • Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, heavy meals and exercise for a few hours before going to bed
    • Not watching TV or using phones, tablets or computers shortly before going to bed
    • Not napping during the day
    • Writing a list of your worries, and any ideas about how to solve them, before going to bed to help you forget about them until the morning

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