How can lack of sleep affect your health?

December 31, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll in many areas of our lives, including our sleep. Sleep is essential for helping your body repair itself. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but many of us aren’t getting it.

Both the length and quality of your sleep matter. In a typical night, you may go through several sleep cycles, which last about 90 minutes each and are comprised of individual stages. Progressing smoothly through the sleep cycles is vital, as each stage is restorative for your body and mind.

During stage 1, you start to doze. After about 1-5 minutes, you enter stage 2 and your heart and breathing rate slow, muscles relax and body temperature drops. After about 10-25 minutes, your body relaxes further and you enter stage 3, deep sleep. Experts believe this stage is critical to bolstering the immune system and allowing the body to recover.

After you’ve been asleep for about 90 minutes, you’ll enter REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Brain activity picks up rapidly as body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing increase. This is usually when you dream. REM sleep is believed to be essential to memory, learning and creativity, as well as emotional health.

The sleep stages allow your brain and body to recuperate. If you sleep less or wake up frequently through the night, you may not get enough time in each sleep stage or properly cycle into the deeper stages, which can lead to problems with your cognition and emotional and physical health.

What exactly happens to your body and mind when you are sleep deprived?

After 24 hours, you may feel tired, irritable, angry and less alert. If you miss more than a day of sleep, you may have impaired memory, slow reaction time and impaired immune function. After two days of sleep loss, you may have anxiety, irritability, and even begin to hallucinate. After three days of missed sleep, you could have delusions and disordered thinking and, after four days, your perception of reality will be severely distorted.

Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to reduced immune function, poor cognitive function and even an increased risk for chronic disease. Sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to regulate your emotions so you’re more likely to have a short temper and mood swings, and you may feel more stressed and sad.

Good sleep is needed to safeguard your mental health. Studies suggest chronic, insufficient sleep may increase the risk for developing some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Good sleep can also help those with an existing mental health disorder cope better.

The longer you’ve gone without sleep, the longer it will take to recover, so it can take days or weeks to recover from a bout of sleep deprivation.

How can you improve your sleep? First, your doctor can help you rule out a sleep disorder or other underlying health condition. Ask your doctor about participating in a sleep study. Next, you may need help from a behavioral health therapist if anxiety, depression or another mental health issue is interfering with your sleep.

In the meantime, here are 10 tips to incorporate healthier sleep habits:

  1. Create a regular sleep routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  2. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, and heavy, spicy or sugary foods late in the day.
  3. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, quiet and make your bed and bedding comfortable.
  4. Avoid stimulating activities, like exercise, before bed.
  5. Use your bed for sleep and intimacy only.
  6. If you can’t fall asleep or if you wake up and can’t go back to sleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something boring until you feel drowsy.
  7. Don’t take naps, especially after 3 p.m. and for no more than 30 minutes.
  8. Dim the lights and put away electronic devices for an hour or more before bed.
  9. Get regular exercise during the day. Staying active can help you spend more time in deep sleep.
  10. Do something relaxing before bedtime (e.g., take a warm bath, read, listen to relaxing music, practice deep breathing or mindfulness).

We all need sleep to be healthy. Let your doctor know if you continue to feel sleep deprived so you can feel better and live healthier.

Could you have a sleep disorder? Find out in minutes with our free, online test.

Learn more about sleep disorders and sleep studies offered at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

In some cases, stress and anxiety can be overwhelming. Linden Oaks Behavioral Health has therapists who can help. Call 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment. Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

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