If you have ever endured an interrupted night’s sleep, you’ll be all too familiar with the experience of waking up feeling tired and moody. For some people experiencing lack of sleep, that becomes the norm, as they are rarely able to get enough sleep.
It has a major impact on their quality of life and ability to do their job, but it could even get worse than that. Failure to get sufficient sleep can lead to a whole host of medical problems, including strokes, heart attacks and diabetes.
What is the Right Amount of Sleep?
Every person is different, but as a rough guide adults need around seven or eight hours of sleep a day, while teenagers require nine hours and infants should get around 16 hours.
You have probably heard of people getting by on much smaller amounts. For example, Margaret Thatcher is reputed to have only slept for four hours a night while prime minister.
If that is true, it is because it was her natural sleeping pattern, not because she adapted to her busy life. There is no scientific evidence to suggest the body can get used to surviving on less sleep.
Why Aren’t You Getting Enough Sleep?
If you regularly find it difficult to sleep for more than a few hours each night or you usually feel tired when you wake up, you may have a sleep disorder.
In addition to insomnia, other symptoms include early morning headaches, daytime fatigue, snoring and gasping in your sleep, and twitching and itching sensations in your legs while in bed.
Snoring is often a sign of obstructive sleep apnoea, which is caused by the muscles in the throat relaxing and causing a temporary but total blockage of the airway. While it may appear the snorer is in a deep sleep, the reality is they are waking momentarily at regular intervals and not actually getting the rest they need.
Other sleep-related conditions include restless legs syndrome – which is exactly what it sounds like – and circadian rhythm disorder, which is caused by the natural routine of the body clock being disrupted.
Your problems could also be the result of narcolepsy, a neurological condition that affects the body’s ability to control sleep and wakefulness.
What are the Risks of not Getting Enough Sleep?
If these symptoms persist for only a few days, the worst thing that is likely to happen is that you experience daytime fatigue. This may result in irritability, an inability to concentrate and slower reaction times, as well as affect your relationships with loved ones and colleagues. It will also make it dangerous for you to drive or operate machinery.
Should you suffer from a lack of sleep for a prolonged period, it may affect the chemical balance of your brain and trigger a bout of clinical depression. Another common problem among people who find it impossible to get enough rest is high stress levels, which can in turn lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure.
A study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts, earlier this year also found a lack of sleep led to a slowdown in the body’s resting metabolic rate. This may result in an annual weight gain of 10 lb and leave the sufferer at an increased risk of diabetes.
What Can You Do About It?
If the symptoms are serious and prolonged, you need medical assistance. The success rate in dealing with sleep disorders is good, with techniques such as regular oxygen therapy, continuous positive airway pressure treatment, fitting a mandibular responding splint, bright-light treatment and drugs all proving useful in combating them.
There are also things you can do to deal with minor problems without the supervision of a doctor. Losing weight, reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake, doing more exercise, meditation, establishing a bedtime routine and using a steam vaporiser before you try to sleep can all be effective.
What is your approach to fighting insomnia and avoiding lack of sleep? Please share your tips with us!
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