Why is sleep so important – after all it must be, as we humans spend almost one-third of our lives asleep!
Sleep is an essential time for our brain and body to complete processes that it may not be able to do when we are awake.
What happens if I do not get enough sleep?
Research coming out of Harvard University has suggested six reasons as to why we need to get enough sleep:
- Learning and memory. Information that we have taken in during the day can be consolidated whilst we are asleep, with the sleep supporting the brain to commit that new information to memory.
- Metabolism and weight. Our hormones may be affected by lack of sleep, which can increase our appetite and affect how our body stores carbohydrates.
- Safety. Research has shown that sleep deprivation of just 17-19 hours can have the same effect on driving performance as a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%. Longer periods of sleep deprivation can impact on driving performance as if you were two times over the legal limit.
- Mood. Restricted sleep can lead to moodiness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
- Cardiovascular health. Research has shown that chronic sleep disorders have been linked with hypertension, irregular heartbeat, and increased stress hormone levels.
- Disease. Restricted sleep changes the body’s ability to fight off disease by altering the immune system.
What can cause sleep deprivation and disturbances?
Below are some of the more common causes of sleep deprivation and disturbances.
- Being busy. Staying up late to complete chores, watch television, or socialise, instead of going to bed at a reasonable time.
- Being a parent. Most parents will experience sleep deprivation at some point due to their kids waking up frequently during the night.
- Shift work. Shift work can disrupt regular sleep-wake cycles.
- Medication. Some medication is known to affect sleep, or can cause insomniac disorder.
- Illness. A cold or other sickness can result in snoring and frequent waking.
- Sleep disorders. Sleep apnoea, particularly if left untreated, can result in a disturbed sleep during the night.
- Poor sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to different practices that can impact on sleep. For example, taking daytime naps, caffeine late in the day, irregular bed times, and unpleasant sleeping environments can all negatively impact our slumber.
- Mental health. Mental health can result in difficulty initiating sleep and difficulty staying asleep, with one of the most common issues people tend to report is being unable to stop thinking when trying to fall asleep. This tends to have a two-fold effect, as lack of sleep can affect our mood.
How can I improve my sleep?
- Improve sleep hygiene practice. Simple ways of improve your ability to sleep include:
- Ensuring regular sleep times and wake time.
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Regular exercise.
- Avoid alcohol 4 – 6 hours before bed. Alcohol may seem like it helps some people initially fall asleep, however it interrupts the quality of sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine 4 – 6 hours before bed. Traces of caffeine are not just found in coffee, but also in some teas, chocolates, medication and cola.
- For more useful sleep hygiene tips please click here.
- Relaxation strategies.
- Breathing. Try taking deep breaths and imagine yourself sinking in to the bed. Alternatively count your breaths backwards from 100. If you reach zero or lose count – start again.
- Apps. There are many different Apps that can provide guided meditation strategies. Try Smiling Mind or Headspace. Other Apps can be useful for background noise, and many people find the addition of rain sounds or the beach a helpful way to relax.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). PMR is the act of tensing individual parts of your body for a few seconds, then releasing. For instance, squeeze your hands into fists, then relax. Move up to your shoulders and tense them into a shrug, then relax. Practice with different parts of the body, but avoid any that cause pain or considerable discomfort.
- Professional Support. If your sleep is disturbed as a result of a mental health concern, such as depression or anxiety, or you are really struggling, seek out professional support from your GP or a psychologist.
Author: Kaylee Spiller, BPsySc(Hons), MProfPsych.
Kaylee Spiller is a Brisbane psychologist working with adolescents and adults, using a client-centred approach. Her goal is to help each client make meaningful changes in their life, focusing on their personal goals and values.
Kaylee Spiller no longer offers appointments at our office. To book with an available clinician, try Online Booking or call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Williamson, A. (2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(10), pp.649-655.
- Harvard Health. (2006). Importance of Sleep : Six reasons not to scrimp on sleep – Harvard Health. [online] Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance_of_sleep_and_health [Accessed 20 Feb. 2020].