Research has shown that sleep deprivation is linked to a number of health problems, from weight gain to a weak immune system. You might expect that too little sleep would result in exhaustion – and you’d be right – but there are some other signs to look out for too.
Take our quiz to check how sleep deprived you are and learn how you can make some lifestyle changes to get a good night’s sleep – every night.
Are you gaining weight?
There is plenty of good research that shows that poor sleep is linked to weight gain and a higher likelihood of obesity. This is because when you don’t get enough sleep, your body can’t regulate the hormones that control your natural hunger and fullness signals. The result? Overeating.
Are you moody or bad-tempered?
Mood swings, anger, frustration and irritability are red flag signs of sleep deprivation. When you haven’t had enough sleep, your brain struggles to control your emotions, which can make you moody. Your mood can also affect how well you sleep – think of how your brain goes into overdrive, as you close your eyes at night, when you’re anxious or stressed.
Is your skin looking spotty or ‘tired’?
Sleep is a time for your body to repair itself, says the US Sleep Foundation, and that includes your skin, the body’s largest organ. Too little sleep can result in your body releasing too much cortisol – a stress hormone, and too much cortisol can reduce the elasticity of your skin. A Cleveland study also showed that too little sleep may cause acne or make it worse.
Do your eyes look red or puffy?
Puffiness, redness, dark circles and bags are all tell-tale signs you aren’t getting enough sleep. While you’re sleeping, you release human growth hormone – which helps to maintain, build, and repair healthy tissue in your body, including keeping your eyes bright and healthy-looking.
Do you wake up feeling irritable with a dry mouth and/or throat?
Sleep apnoea is a condition when you stop breathing momentarily during sleep, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s a serious condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated by a doctor. Other symptoms include loud snoring, gasping for air in your sleep and waking up with a headache most mornings. It can also cause irritability and waking up with a dry mouth or throat.
Is your sex drive a thing of the past?
Sleep specialists say that men and women report less interest in sex when they are sleep deprived. And for men who suffer from sleep apnoea, a 2002 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests that many of these men also have low testosterone levels – which adds to their low sex drive.
Do you often forget things?
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may start to notice problems like not being able to remember things or concentrate for long periods of time. But multiple studies also show that poor sleep is linked with longer-term brain problems, including the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
How did you score?
If you scored four or more ‘yes’ answers, then you’re probably not getting enough sleep. Let’s look at why sleep is essential to good health, reasons why you’re short of sleep, and how to get the sleep you need:
Why is sleep important?
“Sleep is the ‘Swiss army knife of health’. It is more important than what you eat and how you exercise,” says Joni Peddie, official delegate of World Sleep Day in South Africa, and CEO of Resilient People coaching.
“High quality, restorative sleep improves brain function, aids muscle recovery, boosts longevity, balances hormones, protects the heart and fights fat. Why wouldn’t you invest in seven to eight hours a night if these are the ‘returns’ for your body?” For optimal health, she says, you need seven to eight hours of quality sleep a night.
The three elements of good sleep
If you want to have a truly good night of sleep, all three of these things need to be in place:
- Quantity: enough sleep, i.e., seven to eight hours a night
- Continuity: Your sleep should be uninterrupted
- Quality: Enough deep sleep, which is when your body does its most important repair work
Causes of sleep deprivation
We can access the internet any time of night or day, and so we do. And then we overstimulate our brains just when we should be winding down. “The smartphone is with us 24/7 and although most people won’t admit to it, they are ‘addicted’ and can’t live with their phones being an arm’s length away. This ‘always on’ generation is suffering from insomnia and its severe health knock-on effects,” says Peddie.
Part of the problem with phones, tablets and computer screens, is also the blue light they emit because it mimics the quality of sunlight, and that gives our brain a signal to wake up instead of sleep.
Anxiety is another important consideration. The CDC has noted that the pandemic has caused stress and anxiety for many people, which has a negative effect on sleep.
And then there are other causes such as habitually going to bed late, so you don’t get enough sleep, a sleeping environment that is noisy, or not the right temperature, an uncomfortable bed, or medical problems such as depression, sleep apnoea, or chronic pain.
How to get the sleep you need
Getting a good night’s sleep starts with what is known as good “sleep hygiene”. Here are some ways you can use it to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep:
- De-stress: Start winding down 30 minutes before bedtime, by dimming your lights and unplugging electronics.
- Have a bedtime routine that you follow every night to signal to your body that it’s almost time to sleep.
- Set a ‘shutdown’ alarm to remind you to start getting ready for bed on time.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every morning seven days a week – and don’t push the snooze button on your alarm.
- Avoid electronic screens one to two hours before bed – the blue light they generate is bad for your sleep.
- Use mindfulness practices that work for you, such as deep breathing, meditation or listening to soothing music.
- Avoid caffeine after 2pm.
- Do gentle yoga or stretching exercises before bed.
- Exercise regularly.
- Make sure you have a comfortable bed, including a good quality pillow and mattress.
When to get help
If you adjust your lifestyle habits and gear them for good sleep, insomnia and sleep deprivation are preventable and treatable, says Peddie. If you suspect medical causes like anxiety, chronic pain or apnoea to be the problem, however, speak to your doctor about treatments available.
A caution: Sleeping pills are not necessarily the answer. “They come with a laundry list of side effects and don’t address the underlying issue,” says Peddie. They can also make conditions like sleep apnoea worse.
A good night’s sleep – seven to nine hours a night – is essential to staying healthy and being ready to take on the world. So make sleep a priority in your quest for good health!
Discover 1Life Pulse
With 1Life Pulse Life Cover you could earn up to R500 000 additional life cover if you make healthy lifestyle choices like going to bed and waking up at the same time and getting between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night. Learn more here!