World Sleep Day is an annual event which is intended to be a celebration of sleep and a call to address important issues all related to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving. This year will mark the 12th annual international awareness day to celebrate the importance of sleep.
In 2018, 55 countries partook in World Sleep Day, this is due to the importance of sleep healthcare providers discussing and distributing sleep importance all around the world as time and time again sleep medicine professionals and researchers came up against the belief that sleep is not important in personal health.
So, are you getting enough sleep? What happens to your brain when you don’t get enough sleep?
We teamed up with Naturalmat’s resident sleep expert Christabel Majendie who explains how to spot the lack of sleep signs and why sleep is so important.
1) Why is sleep so important?
Sleep plays a vital role in our entire body. When we sleep our bodies rest, this conserves energy, decreases blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and body temperature. Furthermore sleep also causes the brain to remain active in order to restore daytime mental functioning and carrying out different processes that lead to physical growth.
Sleep is important to control your body temperature and energy use, it is also key to keep your immune system working. In children its key to repair tissues and stimulate growth and can also regulate your appetite and weight by controlling your blood glucose levels.
Energy levels after healthy sleep are higher, and your mental awareness is more acute. Good sleep is also tied to improved athletic performance including greater speed, agility and reflexes.
There are five stages of sleep, stage 1 (light sleep) through to stages 2 and 3 (deep sleep) to stage 4 known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM sleep typically occupies 75-80% of total sleep each night. Many of the health benefits of sleep takes place during this time, tissue growth and repair, energy is restored and essential hormones which are essential for growth and development are released. REM sleep typically occupies 2-25% of total sleep each night. REM sleep is when dreaming occurs and is essential to our minds for processing and consolidating emotions, memories and stress. It’s also thought to be vital for learning and stimulating the brain into learning new things.
2) What amount of sleep should you be getting each night?
Research shows that adults need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to be well rested.
The National Institute of Health suggests the following sleep recommendations by age group:
Newborns 16-18 hours
Pre-school-aged children 11-12 hours
School-aged children At least 10 hours
Teens 7-9 hours
Adults 18+ (inc elderly) 7-8 hours
Most of us assume that sleeping for 7 to 9 hours each day is going to be enough, but not everyone’s cycle is the exact same. Factors can affect your sleep: pregnancy, sleep quality, sleep debt and of course age.
To work out how much sleep you personally need you should look at how long it takes for you to fall asleep. Falling asleep can take around 15 to 20 minutes after you are in bed, if you find yourself still awake then you might want to take closer look at your bedtime.
Reasons why this may happen include overeating before bed, drinking coffee late in the day, or nap too late or too long before bed.
On the other hand if you’re asleep as soon as you hit the pillow then you might not get enough sleep.
It is also beneficial to keep a sleep diary, by journaling your sleep patterns every day you can gain an insight on how well you sleep and when you suffer the most from poor sleep. From here you can adjust your sleep schedule so you will be able to get full rest.
3) The lack of sleep signs
Skipping and not prioritising sleep night after night can become a big problem, and there are many signs which alert you if your lack of sleep is damaging your health.
If your body doesn’t get a chance to fully recharge by cycling through REM and NREM, you’re already beginning the next day at a disadvantage, if you find yourself feeling drowsy, irritable and sometimes depressed, struggling to take in new information at work, remembering things and craving more unhealthy foods then these are all signs of lack of sleep. If this happens consistently it does place a strain on your nervous system, body and overall health. So if you’re not sleeping well or find yourself becoming increasingly restless when you wake in the morning then its important to talk to your doctor and investigate going through a sleep study.
4) What happens to your brain when you don’t get enough sleep?
Sleep deprivation makes it difficult for brain cells to communicate effectively, which can lead to temporary mental lapses that affect the memory and visual perception. Starving the body of sleep robs neurons of the ability to function properly, and consequently this causes cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us. You will become highly emotional and angry; the amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions and takes over when we are tired.
A lack of sleep disrupts the amygdala’s connection with other regions of the brain that ensure our emotions are in full regulation. Tiredness can also interfere with our ability to articulate ourselves properly, often we find ourselves slurring or finding trouble to say the right words which is a clear indication of lack of sleep.
5) Tips to improve your sleep
A good tip is to sleep on a comfortable mattress; a good quality mattress will be free of allergens so that you can have a restless night. Also it is best to avoid alcohol, cigarettes and heavy meals in the evening – this disrupts sleep and eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it harder to sleep so best to avoid eating large meals two to three hours before bedtime.
There are many other tips available – it is all about finding the best ones that work for you. If you’re still having trouble sleeping don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional. As mentioned before do try and record your sleep in a sleep diary to help better evaluate common patterns and sleep habits.