The importance of a good night’s sleep goes beyond banishing under-eye circles. During sleep, our bodies are hard at work, restoring, rebalancing and boosting our disease-fighting powers.
What is general insomnia? What is sleep apnoea?
General insomnia is characterised by difficulty falling or staying asleep. Common symptoms include feeling tired and groggy upon waking, waking up too early in the morning, or waking frequently throughout the night and having trouble falling back asleep. You may feel sleepy during the day and easily become irritable. Insomnia can be acute or chronic, and there are many factors that may cause insomnia. Factors include:
- emotional or psychological stress, worry, and/or anxiety associated with significant life events, such as job loss/change, death of loved one, or divorce;
- elevated levels of circulating stress hormones, impacting and ‘revving up’ your adrenal glands;
- too warm room and/or environmental temperature;
- bright sleeping quarters and exposure to TV/cell phone screens prior to sleep;
- exercising too late;
- drinking alcohol before bed; and
- caffeine and nicotine late in the evenings.
This is not an exhaustive list. These are common examples many of us can relate to. It’s best to practice proper ‘sleep hygiene’ and get yourself into a bedtime routine. This includes turning off technology 60 minutes before bed, sleeping in complete darkness, keeping a cool room temperature, and avoiding the use of loud alarm clocks. Waking up is hard enough without the blaring of a deafening alarm clock on your bedside table!
Sleep apnoea is more serious than just night-time snoring (but that’s one of the signs). Obstructive Sleep Apnoea occurs when the walls or muscles of the upper airway relax or collapse in such a way that they block the airway during sleeping, reducing oxygen intake and creating the snoring partners often complain about! This interruption in air supply is called an “apnoea” and can last up to a minute or more.
Why is this so harmful? A lack of oxygen signals the brain to wake up briefly to shock the cardiovascular system in order to clear the airway and restart breathing. This can happen hundreds of times per night, without having any conscious awareness of these episodes. An individual may not remember the frequent patterns of waking but the body certainly does, and it is only a matter of time before negative health consequences arise.
The risk factors of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea are:
- excess weight;
- naturally narrow airways;
- high blood pressure;
- chronic nasal congestion;
- asthma; and
- family history of sleep apnoea.
What is the optimal amount of sleep per night, according to the experts?
For adults the ideal amount of sleep is 7-8 hours per night. Researchers found that 7-8 hours of sleep per night was associated with increased self-esteem and greater optimism in comparison to 6 hours or less of sleep. It’s been found that even a single night of 4-6 hours of sleep can impact your ability to think clearly the following day. Regularly sleeping for less than 6 hours per night increases your risk of premature death by 12%. That’s not a statistic to shrug at!
The amount of sleep will greatly depend and vary with age, lifestyle, stress levels, health etc., but the average adult should strive for the gold standard of 7-8 hours. Babies, children, and teenagers will require more sleep. The irony of our youth—we had luxury of time, free nights, and summer mornings to sleep in. As working adults with young children, a weekend lie-in, evening tea, and an early bedtime have become a harder routine to acquire!
What happens to our bodies when we don’t sleep?
Some of the fairly inconspicuous side-effects of poor sleep are mood swings, day time drowsiness and brain fog. These symptoms are signs of more serious negative health effects that are happening to your body. Other effects of poor sleep include:
- increased release of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can lead to brain cell death;
- increased blood pressure and heart disease risk;
- increased insulin release, leading to decreased ability to breakdown fat and increased hunger;
- constipation, stomach ulcers, digestive impairment;
- decreased release of growth hormone and thyroid hormones, leading to accelerated aging and poor brain restoration;
- increased risk of depression;
- increased risk of accidents of all kinds; and
- decreased immunity and the reduced ability to defend yourself against infections.
80% of people with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea remain undiagnosed with one in four people in Australia likely to have it*. If left untreated, it can negatively affect your cardiovascular system putting you at an increased risk for heart attacks, heart failure, stroke and abnormal heart rhythms. Other complications include the development of eye conditions such as glaucoma, memory problems, morning headaches, mood swings, depression, poor bladder control and accidents.
If you have sleep problems, make an appointment with one of our GPs today – they’ll arrange some tests including a sleep test, which can be done in the comfort of your own home.
*Estimate from the Sleep Health Foundation.
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