A group of different conditions that hinder our sleep time is called sleep disorders, and it stands for common disorders like insomnia, sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, snoring, restless leg syndrome, sleepwalking, etc. Many causes can develop sleep disorders, for example, health problems, work, stress, or specific lifestyle can all be the reasons that can trigger some disorder. Most people experience some of the sleep problems occasionally due to certain circumstances, but when it becomes a chronic condition and threatens to jeopardize one’s mental and physical health, that is a sign that you are dealing with sleeping problems.
If you experience daytime fatigue, lack of concentration, the need to nap during the day or you are struggling with falling and staying asleep, the chances that you have some sleep disorder are pretty high since those are the main symptoms. The best way to deal with sleep disorders is to change your lifestyle habits, which we will address later in this post, or to try some medical solutions such as melatonin supplements or sleeping pills.
Lately, we could often hear that America is a sleep-deprived nation, and it has been estimated that six out of ten Americans are deprived of sleep. The lack of sleep is becoming a worldwide problem and a troublesome consequence of our modern ways of living and working. During the work days, we struggle to keep up with everything, and since shift working is a major cause of sleep disorders, we rely on weekend days to compensate for our sleep. But, this way we waste our precious free time by trying to repay our sleep-debt during the weekend. Let’s just say that if sleep was a credit card company, many of us would be in deep problems. We all know that optimal sleep time is 7 to 8 hours per night, so why is it so hard for us to find time to sleep?
Lack of sleep does not only affect our lifestyle, but it also can aggravate our physical condition in many ways. In today’s post, we are going to list what are the main consequences of sleep disorders on our health and share some tips for healthy prevention.
Effects of Sleep Disorders on Your Body
As we have mentioned before, sleep deprivation would not only impact our mental health but our physical condition as well. Even one night of inadequate sleep is enough to mess up our concentration and mood on the next day, so imagine what happens to our body when we do not get enough sleep for days, or weeks when we are chronically sleep deprived. Lack of sleep will lower the quality of our lives, and it will hinder the way of how our body functions typically, comprehensive research of sleep studies have shown that people who sleep less than 6 to 8 hours have increased their risk of early death. And since scientists have connected many different health problems to our poor sleeping habits, those long term lack of sleep side effects are going to be our next topic.
- Obesity – you may be surprised to hear that junk food and other unhealthy eating habits are not the only things standing on your way to a good physique. Obesity can surprisingly be caused by sleep deprivation also, so let’s see how that can happen. Two hormones called leptin and ghrelin are in charge of our feelings of hunger and fullness. Leptin is responsible for moderation and weight control, and it suggests your brain when you have had enough food. On the other hand, ghrelin stimulates the appetite. Proper sleep routine keeps in balance the level of those hormones, but when we do not sleep enough, our body raises the ghrelin hormone and lowers the leptin. It explains why many night owls or sleep-deprived people in general, have the urge for late night snacking and overeating. Sleep deprived persons are usually constantly tired, so they do not have the energy or will to exercise, which also contributes to their weight gain. Another major risk is diabetes since the lack of sleep prompts our body to release more insulin after a meal. Insulin is supposed to control our blood sugar level; once the level of insulin goes higher, it promotes fat storage and increases the risk of diabetes.
- Immunity – while we are sleeping, our immune system cells produces cytokine which is a group of proteins or peptides in charge of regulating our immunity, so when we experience some health problems, our reaction to inflammation or infections depends on cytokine. Sleep deprivation will weaken our immune system, and it will make us more liable to diseases and slow down our process of recovery.
- Heart diseases are one of the most common death causes in the U.S., and they are not reserved only for the elderly population. We should always nurture our heart to prevent any later complications, and getting enough rest each night is also a way of nourishing it. Younger people who are sleep deprived have a bigger risk of developing coronary heart disease, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy or atherosclerosis. People who have sleep apnea usually have some problems with their heart health. Since they wake up frequently during the night, they do not achieve those long periods of deep sleep when our blood pressure and heart rate are lowered. It causes higher blood pressure during the day and increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Cancer – lack of sleep has recently been connected to cancer, and apparently people who have circadian rhythm disorders are at higher risk of cancer. Researchers from the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health carried out a study in which they proved that women who work in night shifts have a 30% higher risk of breast cancer.
- Breathing disorders such as sleep apnea are disrupting our respiratory system during the night. Sleepers who experience sleep apnea are going through phases during the night in which their breathing occasionally stops completely. Snoring and tiredness on the next morning are some signs that you maybe have sleep apnea. There are three different types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed, but in all three of them sleepers can experience breathing stops repeatedly even hundreds of times during just one night for a minute or longer. Since these breathing pauses usually do not wake the sleeper up, they stay unaware of their ongoing problem.
- Skin – pale skin and dark under-eye circles are signs that you are not getting enough sleep, but chronic sleep deprivation can cause your skin to age prematurely. Wrinkled, lackluster and dry skin are some side effects of sleep deprivation that are hard to reverse. That is why we need the so-called beauty sleep because when we are not getting enough of it, our body produces more cortisol which is a stress hormone that breaks down skin collagen.
- Central nervous system – insomnia is a disorder that impacts our central nervous system negatively and hinders its normal functioning. Lack of sleep will exhaust our brain, and slow down the way it functions, so some coordination skills can be downgraded which increases the risk of injuries or accidents. Extended state of sleep deprivation can mess up our minds and cause hallucinations, hearing or seeing things that do not exist. Another consequence is micro-sleeping, which is hard to control and can be dangerous for frequent drivers especially. Microsleep is something that we almost cannot control since we could fall asleep for a few seconds or minutes without being aware of it.
- Hormones – sleep has a huge impact on the production of hormones in our body, and irregular sleep patterns can cause our hormones to “go wild.” For example, for testosterone production, we need at least three hours of interrupted sleep. Just one week of poor sleep will lower the level of testosterone for 15%. For the younger population and especially teenagers, growth hormone is essential for their development, and lack of sleep will lower the production of this hormone.
Symptoms of Sleep Disorders
Some people are so used to the bad sleeping patterns that they do not even consider them potential disorders. So now we are going to point out the main symptoms, and if they sound familiar to you, you might need to switch your sleeping habits.
- Fatigue – you are trying to sleep for the recommended amount of time, but you still experience daytime fatigue? It means that something is obstructing your sleep cycle and that your body fails to reach the phase of deep, restorative, REM sleep.
- Snoring – if your partner wakes you up or tells you the next day that you have been snoring, that is another sign of sleep disorder, most likely it is sleep apnea.
- Sleepiness – we all sometimes need a power nap during the day, but if you continuously feel excessive daytime sleepiness, you need to change your sleep routine. Once your head starts to fall down, or you fall asleep at work or behind the wheel, you need to try sleeping more or talk with your GP.
- Falling asleep – if you have issues with falling and staying asleep you might suffer from insomnia. In case these problems last for at least a month, you should go to the clinic or contact your GP because they won’t go away on their own so easily.
- Other health problems – if you already suffer from some health issues it may be hard at first to recognize a sleep disorder, but they usually go hand in hand with some other issues such as depression, illness, chronic pain, etc. One condition contributes to the development of the other one, and since combined they are not going to help you get better anytime soon, you need to consult your doctor.
How to Avoid Sleep Disorders?
It is always better to solve your health problems through natural way if it is possible. To avoid a sleep disorder you just need to change your habits and lifestyle and start a healthier routine that will provide you more shut-eye time.
- Caffeine – reduce the intake of the coffee afternoon, or at least after lunch, because caffeine stays in our system for hours after just one cup of coffee.
- Routine – make a sleep schedule and try sticking to it by going to bed every night at the approximately same time, before midnight.
- Water – although it is recommended to drink as much water as we can, we should avoid drinking it before going to bed, because it can force us to wake up to go to the bathroom.
- Food – try eating healthier, include more vegetables, fruits, fish, and cut out the sugary things such as sweets and salty snacks.
- Naps – shift workers and night owls like to take a nap for an hour or two during the afternoon. It compensates for the hours they lost during the night, but it can mess up their night sleep and create an enchanted circle.
- Bedroom – turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary, if possible take out the tv and computer from this room, and make it cozy and intimate. Maintain a cool temperature, aerate it daily and keep it dark.
- Exercise – being active is recommended, and it can help with sleeping better, but it should be avoided at least three hours before bedtime.