Monday, 30th October 2017

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Why sleep is important

Sleep deprivation can have serious implications on your physical and mental health

By Shikha Prakash
  • Published 1.06.19, 4:56 PM
  • Updated 1.06.19, 4:56 PM
  • 4 mins read
Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before hitting the bed doing a calming activity, such as reading. Give up all gadgets and sitcoms (iStock)

As children, we have all heard “early to bed and early to rise, makes….” But today, the saying is somewhat out of sync because we don’t sleep at the right time for various reasons, deranging the circadian rhythm. Aahara (food), nidra (sleep) and brahmacharya (abstinence) are described to be the trayopas thambhas (three supportive pillars) of life and so sleep is one of the essential factors to lead a healthy life. It has been rightly stated by Acharya Charaka that happiness and misery, proper and improper growth, strength and weakness, potency and sterility, knowledge and ignorance, and life and death of an individual depend on the quality of sleep. Ayurveda has always spoken about having a good dinacharya (day routine) and a ratricharya (night routine) and these routines define the state of our health, be it mental or physical.

Why is sleep important?

At night when we are asleep, the body makes necessary repairs. The brain also consolidates memories. The changes that happen at night determine how we feel the next day. When we are in good health and have a good night’s sleep, we wake up feeling refreshed. Poor sleep hygiene disrupts both short- and long-term health.

Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body — from the brain, heart and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood and resistance to diseases. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, increases the risk of disorders, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and obesity.

How much sleep do we need?

Most of us need around eight hours — some more and some less — of good-quality sleep every night to function properly. If you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep. Sleep patterns change as we age but this varies significantly across individuals of the same age.

Babies initially sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours per day; this boosts growth and development.

School-age children and teens on an average need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night.

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

After age 60, night-time sleep tends to get shorter, lighter and interrupted.

These days, people are getting less sleep due to longer work hours, the availability of round-the-clock entertainment and other activities; late-night movies, concerts, streaming and, of course, technology is to be blamed as we all have our smartphones on us 24x7.

Lack of sleep can leave one grumpy and bring down the quality of work. However, the cost of all those sleepless nights is more than just bad mood and a lack of focus, it puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, hormonal imbalance, hypothyroidism, fatty liver, heart disease, cancer and diabetes… and it shortens life expectancy.

One in three people suffer owing to poor sleep. Matters worsen when stress is thrown into the equation. Plus, bringing work home doesn’t help. An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health. After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become far more serious. It would cause terrible brain fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll start to feel down and may fall asleep during the day, increasing the risk of injury and accidents. Also, if you don’t sleep enough, inflammation doesn’t subside. So if suddenly you start experiencing joint pains, it could be a sign of poor sleep over several days.

How can sleeping right boost one’s health?

Boosts immunity: Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt the immune system.

Helps reduce weight: Sleeping less may mean you put on weight. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese. Also, when we sleep well, we have adequate amount of leptin (the chemical which makes us feel full) and therefore we have no hunger pangs. And if you work out and don’t catch enough sleep, weight loss doesn’t take place.

Helps in mental well-being: A sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day. Chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders, like depression and anxiety.

Prevents diabetes: Many studies have shown that people who sleep less than five hours a day have an increased risk of diabetes.

Wards off heart diseases: Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on the heart.

Increases fertility: Difficulty in conceiving a baby is said to be one of the effects of sleep deprivation in both men and women.

Improves one’s gut health: Proper sleep reduces acidity, constipation and bloating.

How to catch up on lost sleep?

If you don’t get enough sleep, there’s only one way to compensate — getting more sleep. If you’ve had months of restricted sleep, you must have built up a significant sleep debt, so expect recovery to take several weeks. Over weekends, try to add on an extra hour or two of sleep a night. The way to do this is to go to bed when you’re tired and allow your body to wake you in the morning.

Some tips for good sleep

Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time, even during weekends. This helps to regulate one’s body clock and it may help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.

Practise a relaxing bedtime ritual. A routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate sleep time from activities that cause excitement, stress or anxiety.

Practise deep-breathing exercises.

Avoid sleeping during the day (do it only during summer).

Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise anytime of the day but not at the expense of your sleep.

Design your sleep environment to create the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be free from any noise and bright light that can disturb your sleep.

Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.

Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.

Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before hitting the bed doing a calming activity, such as reading. Give up all gadgets and sitcoms.

Burn some essential oils.

You may have chamomile tea or other herbal infusions at bedtime.

Practise gratitude every night before you go to bed.

Sleep deprived but a long day lies ahead…

Skip extensive workouts.

Go for a walk.

Stay hydrated.

Have loads of green leafy vegetables.

Eat light and simple food.

Avoid caffeine intake.

Have early dinner.

Practise deep-breathing.

Shikha Prakash is an Ayurvedic consultant at Padaav Speciality Ayurvedic Treatment Centre, Dehradun, and a visiting consultant at AMRI Hospital, Dhakuria