Sleep is a building block of health, along with a well-rounded diet and exercise. Not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night is linked to a myriad of chronic health issues, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and even depression. Holidays are often stressful times, and a healthy sleeping schedule is more important than ever for you and your family.
Lack of sleep often increases the risk of injury in adults, teens, and children. Cognitive side effects of not sleeping includes:
- Irritability and anxiety
- Daytime sleepiness
- Slowed reaction time
- Reduced focus and concentration
- Problems with memory and attention
- Symptoms of depression.
Your body needs sleep, just as it needs food, air, and water. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new thought connections and helps memory retention. Stimulants like caffeine aren’t enough to compensate for your body’s profound need for sleep. These can make sleep deprivation worse by making it harder to fall asleep at night or lead to a cycle of insomnia.
The central nervous system is the leading information highway of your body. Sleep is necessary to keep it functioning correctly, but insomnia can disrupt how your body usually sends and processes information. During sleep, pathways form between the neurons in your brain that assist with remembering new information you’ve learned. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t manage these duties.
Lack of sleep may make it near impossible to concentrate or learn new things. Depriving your body of sleep also negatively affects your mental abilities and emotional state. You may feel more agitated or experience mood swings. It can also compromise decision-making processes and reflex time.
The immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances like antibodies and cytokines. Cytokines also help you sleep by energizing your immune system to defend your body against illness and repairing damaged cells. The body uses these substances to combat bacteria and viruses.
Chronic sleep deprivation may also increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease. A lack of sleep causes an increase in stress hormones that can cause an elevation in your resting heart rate and blood pressure.
Sleeping helps to lock memories into your brain. When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re less able to remember things you learned while you were awake. Sleep also helps your brain regulate emotions. That’s why you might feel irritable and moody after a poor night’s rest.
You can help your body prepare for a good night’s sleep by making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and uncluttered. Put down your electronic devices at least 30 to 45 minutes before you go to bed. If you exercise in the evening, finish the workout two to three hours before bedtime. If you’re drinking tea or coffee after dinner, make sure it is caffeine-free, and while you may think that alcohol will help you sleep, it inhibits REM or rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep happens about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. It’s the stage of sleep when we dream, and it’s considered to have restorative powers.
If you have frequent bouts of insomnia, talk to your doctor because there might be underlying health issues that can include sleep apnea or thyroid issues. Sleeping problems and insomnia can be side effects of medication. Examples include blood pressure drugs, anti-asthma medications, and antidepressants. Other over-the-counter drugs may cause daytime drowsiness that can throw off a person’s sleep schedule.
Dr. Raj Popat, Medical Director of Exceptional ER in Livingston, Texas, stated that “Sleep is vital for well-being! We often take sleep for granted; however, burning the Dr. midnight oil can have dangerous consequences. For example, driving while sleepy is AS DANGEROUS as driving while intoxicated! Sleep deprivation increases your risk of catching viral infections (including Covid). Often, people who have trouble falling or staying asleep can use simple techniques to help them (for example, avoiding electronics before bedtime, establishing a night-time routine); medications should be used only as a last resort.”
Make this holiday season a happy, healthy time for you and your loved ones. It’s the perfect time to start a nightly sleep routine. A bedtime routine can alert the brain that it is time to focus on relaxation and time to turn off the day’s events. Find the things that work best for you and enjoy a good night of sleep.