Written by: Shani Fowler
Sleep has a critical role in serving us with good health and well-being, and although the full reasons for sleep are not quite understood, scientists have developed theories as to why we spend a third of our lives tucked up in our beds.
Reasons for sleep
These theories include:
- Energy conservation – suggesting that a primary function is to reserve our energy for when it is most needed during the day
- Restorative theory – where the body is given chance to repair and rejuvenate itself.
- Inactivity theory – where it is thought that sleeping at night is a survival function in keeping harmful organisms out of the way.
- Whatever the reasons, we all need sleep. We are grumpy and can’t function without it but for many reasons many of us often struggle to get a good night’s sleep.
Results of sleep deprivation
Regular sleep deprivation can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms. Here are just a few:
- Accidents – the lack of sleep can cause minor and major accidents; from dropping your cornflakes on the kitchen floor to causing the death of yourself or someone else. Sleep deprivation has been a major factor in some of the world’s biggest accidents such as the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl.
- Difficulties learning – sleep is critical for aiding cognitive processes and the lack of sleep leads to lack of concentration, difficulties in reasoning and forgetfulness.
- Physical health issues – chronic sleep deprivation can lead to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and diabetes as well as other serious health conditions.
- Sex drive – often people who suffer from sleeping conditions report a loss of libido.
- Depression – over time persistent lack of quality sleep can cause depression and lead to anxiety disorders.
- Ageing process – when people are tired they often look tired and it ages the skin with dark circles appearing under the eye, sagging under the eye and generally having lack lustre skin as during deep sleep, a growth hormone is released that seems to aid tissue repair.
Causes of sleep deprivation
Now we are aware of just some of the horrible symptoms of sleep deprivation, let’s have a look some of the varied causes:
- Medical conditions – some medical conditions such as sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome or other diseases can cause insomnia. Certain medications can be linked to sleep deprivation too, so it’s always worth checking with your GP if you have any of these to rule it out first.
- Stress – emotional stress and worry can be a factor and can cause difficulties in first of all falling asleep and secondly staying asleep.
- Environmental factors – white noise or offending noise can affect the ability to sleep.
- Physical factors – diet, lifestyle and time of eating can hinder sleep
- Menopause – disturbance with sleep is a common symptom reported during the years leading to the menopause.
Improving sleep habits
To begin with try to work out what is actually causing your sleep disturbances but the following should help us in getting and importantly staying asleep:
- Allow yourself enough time – because you are all too aware of the time ticking by as you try to nod off, go to bed an hour earlier giving yourself a little cushion of time.
- Regular pattern – although it’s not always possible with work commitments try to where you can set a regular time pattern for getting to bed and waking up
- Relaxing behaviour – spend the hour prior to bedtime indulging in some form of relaxing behaviour and avoid exertion.
- Avoidance – avoiding alcohol, nicotine and caffeine prior to bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant and can remain in the body for up to eight hours and alcohol may provide a temporary sedating effect but can actually wreak havoc with the body’s natural sleeping rhythm.
- Activity – keep as active as possible through the day to enable the body to relax better at night.
- Avoid worry – we all have things that worry us but try not to think of these things close to bed time.
- Environment – make your bedtime environment as conducive to sleep as possible with minimal sound, or use ear plugs and minimise or completely cut out the light.
- Meditation – learning relaxation or meditation techniques can help ease tensions.
- Avoid napping – though it’s tempting to nap through the day when you haven’t slept at night, try to avoid the temptation as it can serve to make for a new bad routine.
- Use lavender – using lavender oil or other lavender products has proved beneficial for many, most reporting that they feel energised and refreshed after lavender aided sleep.
Sleeping is vital and quality sleep essential to help us feel more alert, energetic and function well. Insomnia and sleep deprivation are very common and can prove a difficult cycle to break, but if you try to figure out the reasons and take positive steps towards a remedy and stick to those steps, you can hopefully achieve a good night’s sleep every night leaving you ready to take on the world each morning.