Sleep deprivation: Is sleep for the weak?
By Ore Taiwo Makinde.
I was driving along the Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, heading to work. Striving to meet up with resumption time while struggling to stay alert, I tried desperately to focus my attention on the stream of cars ahead. The usual Lagos traffic, I thought, then suddenly the road was free. In what seemed like a split second, I realised that I had dozed off but thankfully, I opened my eyes just in time to see that I was headed for the concrete road divider. I quickly swerved avoiding a collision. It was a near miss.
What led to this occurrence? I stayed up till almost 4.00 a.m trying to meet a deadline for submitting a report. I probably got about two hours of sleep by the time I was heading out. This a common and factual experience for many of us going through the daily grind. It explains the reason for frequent accidents on our highways. Sleep deprivation leads to poor concentration, forgetfulness and reduced productivity at work. Some of us can relate to this having read till-day-break (TDB) during school days, ending up blank in the exam hall and failing the exam. Sleep deprivation also predisposes to medical errors and profound economic loss.
IS SLEEP REALLY IMPORTANT?
A better way of putting it is, ‘Is sleep important to you? I was once told, ‘Sleep is for the weak’. You have probably heard influential persons and motivational speakers infer that if you sleep 8 hours out of 24 hours, it means that you have wasted one-third of your life. Aside from being viewed as being inconvenient, we ‘stab’ sleep intentionally in order to take night shifts and night calls. For others, we sacrifice our sleep to watch movies, to catch up on assignments, to browse the web or to engage in spiritual activities.
The World Health Organisation in its technical meeting on “Sleep and Health” in January 2004 noted that sleep is a basic human need which is essential for a good health-related quality of life and optimal daily performance whether at home or at work. Several factors were noted from scientific papers to result in sleep deprivation. However, most of these factors are under human control.
Sleep quality, as well as quantity or duration, is important. Sleep recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation show that adults require 7-8 hours but not more than 9 hours of quality sleep to function maximally. Children require more depending on their age.
HEALTH EFFECTS OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
It is important to cite the effects of sleep deprivation on our health as evidence shows that it can negatively alter several genes in the human body. This is because sleep has been found to predispose to several lifestyle-related illnesses. Here are some of the reasons why we need to value our sleep:
Sleep deprivation is associated with higher blood glucose (glucose) levels predisposing some individuals to type 2 diabetes.
Poor quality sleep is associated with larger cravings for foods that are higher in saturated fat (bad fat) and calorie content during the day predisposing to overweight and obesity.
Insufficient sleep raises the levels of an inflammatory marker that is related to heart disease and therefore a higher risk of heart attacks, which occur mostly in the mornings.
Sleep deprivation predisposes to sudden attacks in those with mental disorders such as depression, mania and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Not sleeping well in the week or few days to exposure to the cold virus increases one’s chances of catching the virus and coming down with a cold.
Sleep disruption or interruption is associated with a higher risk of certain cancers, particularly, breast, bowel and prostate cancers.
In conclusion, lifestyle-related diseases are largely preventable. Ensuring good sleep quality and duration is one of the ways to achieve this. Working long hours indefinitely at night can pose a risk for the involuntary loss of sleep in the latter years of life. It can also compromise bonding between couples. Cultivating good sleep habits in certain environments is more difficult; requiring more deliberate efforts with sleep hygiene than others but it is possible. Anyone with a suspected sleeping disorder should however visit a physician.
Dr Ore Taiwo Makinde is a Consultant Family Physician and certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician.
For more information about healthy lifestyles, follow her at www.lifestylechamps.com