Quality sleep is an important factor in being healthy. There are significant benefits of restorative sleep and getting poor sleep can be disruptive and have a negative impact on our health.
As with diet and exercise, sleep is crucial to our physical and emotional health. Inadequate sleep can lead to an increase in blood pressure, reduced concentration, mood swings, stress and a weakened immune system.
There are many reasons why sleep is important. Sleep is restorative for the brain. Memory consolidation occurs during slow wave sleep, which means that different pieces of what we have learned during the day come together so that the knowledge can be accessed when needed. Insufficient sleep is associated with a higher incidence of behavioral problems. After a good sleep we make better and quicker decisions. Dreams can help us cope with emotional situations that occurred during the day such as jealousy, anger or grief, so that we avoid these emotional situations turning into physical problems like high blood pressure, headaches or ulcers.
Too little sleep can lead to weight gain by altering levels of the hormones that regulate and satisfy hunger leading to overeating. Unfortunately this increase in appetite does not lead to a craving for fruits and veggies, rather, your body longs for foods high in calories, fats and carbohydrates. Growth hormone is released during sleep, so children who sleep well exhibit normal growth progression.
When you are sleepy and tired your body runs out of energy, just like a battery that is getting low. Your body gets recharged with energy when you get a good night's sleep. Overnight, when you sleep your body goes to work to repair little injuries like pulled muscles or body aches and works on making you well when you are feeling ill. Our bodies are more immune to disease and becoming ill when we sleep well. Your body produces extra protein molecules while you are sleeping that helps strengthen your ability to fight infection and stay healthy.
Sleep helps keep your heart healthy. Your cardiovascular system is constantly under pressure and sleep helps to reduce the levels of stress and inflammation in your body. These stressors are linked to heart disease and strokes. Sleep can also help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check which play a role in heart disease.
Researchers have shown that lack of sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by affecting how your body processes glucose, which is the carbohydrate your cells use for fuel. Adults who usually sleep less than five hours per night have a greatly increased risk of developing diabetes.
We know the importance of sleep, but what causes some of us to have disruptive sleep? It is not normal to feel sleepy during the day, to have problems getting to sleep at night or to wake feeling exhausted. These are common signs of a sleep disorder.
Some of the most common types of sleep disorders are insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy. These all cause tiredness and irritability during the day, due to lack of restorative sleep. Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common sleep disorder in which your breathing temporarily stops during sleep due to the blockage in the upper airway. Restless leg syndrome causes an almost irresistible urge to move legs which resting or lying down. Narcolepsy involves excessive, uncontrollable daytime sleepiness, or sleep attacks during the day. Talking to your physician about your sleeping problems can possibly prevent more serious health-related problems in the future.
Regardless of your sleep problems, a consistent sleep routine and improved sleep habits will translate into better sleep over the long term, and improve your overall quality of life. Life is better with a good night's sleep.
Dr. James Meyer is a pulmonologist with UnityPoint Clinic Pulmonology in Fort Dodge and medical director of Trinity Sleep Disorders Center. Dawn Byrne is the supervisor of Trinity Sleep Disorders Center.