Do you remember the last time you wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated? Today, we have an epidemic of sleep deprivation where schooling children alongside their parents are getting less sleep compared to previous generations. It has become an alarming trend so much so that it is now recognised as a major public health issue1.
Unfortunately, many of us have underestimated the significant role sleep plays in our lives, and may have dared to consider it “optional”. Similar to the smartphone in your hand, our body also needs to be fully recharged for us to function optimally the next day.
What Does a Healthy Sleep Pattern Look Like?
To develop a healthy sleep pattern, we must first know the stages of sleep. Generally, a full sleep/wake cycle comprised of five sleep stages: Stages 1-2 (light sleep), Stages 3-4 (deep sleep) and Stage 5 (Rapid Eye Movement sleep)2.
Stage 1: Light sleep; drifting in and out of sleep.
Stage 2: Light sleep; our body begins to prepare for deep sleep.
Stage 3: Deep sleep; our brain produces slow delta waves and these are intermixed with smaller, faster brain waves.
Stage 4: Deep sleep; our brain almost exclusively produces delta waves to transition to the fifth stage.
Stage 5: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep; as our eyes are closed, they move rapidly from side to side when experiencing a dream and other brain activities.
As you can see, having a restful sleep is not immediate. It is gradual and disruptions such as bright lights, surrounding noises and uncomfortable temperature can interfere with the sleep stages.
Moreover, the average amount of sleep needed is based on our age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults (18 - 64 years old) and senior citizens to have between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, while adolescents and schooling children as young as 6 years old need to have between 8 and 11 hours of sleep. Infants and preschoolers have greater sleep needs, which is estimated between 10 and 17 hours3. Even though the hours of sleep needed decreases as we age, it is important that we get enough sleep to wake up feeling energised, happy and clear-headed.
Indicators of Sleep Struggle
Sleep and health are intertwined. If you neglect to take proper sleep, you might have experienced one or more of the self-sabotaging effects of sleep deprivation below:
If you are chronically sleep-deprived, seek medical consultation. It may indicate underlying physical or mental health problems such as respiratory diseases, acid reflux, menopause and cognitive-related disorders.
Benefits of Practicing Consistent, Healthy Sleep Habits
One study has shown that insufficient sleep triggers inflammatory reactions among which are linked to cardiovascular diseases4. During our deep sleep cycles, the body carries out housekeeping functions, including reducing inflammation. Thus, we should make effort to ensure our sleep and wellbeing are aligned by having 7 to 9 hours of deep REM cycles.
A sleep-deprived person tends to lose track of what is being said in a conversation as well as when doing a task. In other words, the person is unable to acquire the new information introduced into the brain. When the stage of acquisition is compromised, the consolidation of memory cannot be performed, thereby resulting in the inability of the person to access the information (consciously or subconsciously) after it has been stored. This means you will have a hard time being present and recalling certain events. Having said that, adequate sleep can certainly help us to focus on those urgent work tasks.
Eating Fewer Calories
To stay wide awake, sleep-deprived individuals may have noticed an increase in calorie intake throughout the day. Our body needs energy to function, which comes as no surprise that cravings for fast food and other high-calorie food will come to mind. Sleep, on the other hand, provides rests for every vital organ which subsequently diminishes unhealthy cravings.
Decreased Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
Remember what we have talked about sleep and its benefit of reducing inflammation in the body? To further reassert the significance of sleep, a research team at the Warwick Medical School has discovered that sleeping for less than six hours per night and have disturbed sleep stand a 48% chance of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15% increase of developing or dying from a stroke5. Based on these statistics, we can safely say that sleep and longevity go hand in hand.
Reduced Risks of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease
Although there has yet to be evidence concerning poor sleep in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, there is one promising clinical trial that tests the potential of sleep in treating this progressive brain disorder6. If sleep is not on your priority list, you might face an early onset of Alzheimer’s which can begin between a person’s 30s and mid-60s7.
After knowing what are the benefits of adequate sleep, there really is no reason to push our body beyond its sleep cycles habitually.
Here are some tips to establish healthy sleep habits:
- Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
- If you’re feeling drowsy during the day, aim to nap for only 10 to 20 minutes.
- If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
- Establish a relaxing pre-bedtime routine for a smoother transition to sleep. Try sleep-inducing essential oils to promote good sleep.
- Don’t sleep with your smartphone. Radiation can disrupt your sleep cycle.
- Dim or block the lights by wearing eye masks.
- Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
- Exercise regularly during the day and have a nutritious, balanced diet.
- Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
- Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
- Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
- Make sure your mattress and pillows match your sleep preferences.
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2.https://www.sleepcycle.com/how-sleep-cycle-works/ 3.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2352721815000157 4.https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/65/suppl_3/S244/1911960 5.https://www.nursingtimes.net/clinical-archive/cardiovascular-clinical-archive/sleep-deprivation-can-cause-strokes-10-02-2011/#:~:text=Stroke%20or%20heart%20disease%20susceptibility,adverse%20effect%20on%20cardiac%20health 6.https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02615002 7.https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-alzheimers-disease