As scientific reports ripple out around the globe from Harvard University to the Canadian Sleep Society, experts agree on one thing: a lack of sleep is a global epidemic which now affects up to 45 per cent of the world’s population.
A recent survey found that more people are sleeping less than six hours a night, and sleep difficulties visit 75% of us at least a few nights per week.
According to Dr. Charles Samuels of the Canadian Sleep Society, “Too often, not getting enough sleep is seen as a badge of honor in our society.”
In the case of students, cramming for exams or partying all night, it may be hard to justify the importance of a good night’s sleep. Staying awake all night can be seen as a right-of-passage, moving from childhood to adulthood, for example, when no one will tell you to be in bed by midnight, or else.
However, being in bed, asleep, prior to the bewitching hour has health benefits, especially when it comes to the all-important biological clock.
Often referred to as the “body clock”, the circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep and regulates many other physiological processes. This internal body clock is affected by environmental cues, like sunlight and temperature. When one’s circadian rhythm is disrupted, sleeping and eating patterns can run amok. A growing body of research is examining the adverse health effects a disrupted circadian rhythm can have, like increasing the chances of cardiovascular events, obesity, and a correlation with neurological problems like depression and bipolar disorder.
– Psychology Today
Chronic sleep loss, which can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and a decrease in the power of the immune system, is a serious concern.
Many of the well- known sleep centres, including The Harvard Women’s Health Watch suggests six reasons to get enough sleep:
- Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
- Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
- Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
- Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
- Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
- Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
A touch of insomnia here and there is nothing to lose sleep over but if sleep patterns become disturbed on a regular basis, it is time to seek help.