Between 33% and 45% of Australian adults suffer from inadequate sleep and the daytime fatigue associated with it. However, sleep disturbances and deprivation occur across all age groups, with the average sleep time of Austrlians reported at 7 hours. Some of us sleep much less, for various reasons, and feel the serious effects through the daytime impairment, sleepiness and fatigue that comes with it. There are many different reasons why people don’t get enough sleep, including:
- Sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or significant insomnia, loud snorers and breathing pauses and obstructions
- Stimulation and hyper-arousal before bed
- Light pollution: exposure to blue light from smartphones which affects melatonin production
- Work obligations
- Household responsibilities
- Parental duties
- Poor diet, including caffeine, sugar and spicy foods
- Poor sleep schedule and lack of discipline around prioritising sleep
Sleep problems can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic problems, as the name suggests, come from within, and include sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, snoring, bedwetting, night terrors and nightmares, while extrinsic problems (from the outside) include anxiety-related insomnia and stress from social problems which can make sleep latency difficult.
Sleep problems can vary in severity, longevity and mechanism, as well as differ depending on the age groups affected. Sleep problems affect us all, from newborns and toddlers, to school-aged children, adolescents, adults and the elderly.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?
You should be sleeping 8 hours a night, right? Not necessarily. There is no magic number that we need for sleep. It is highly individualised, and usually depends on our chornootypes (whether we are night owls or early risers), our energy expenditure, genetic and biological factors, and more.We do know that children and adolescents need more sleep than adults, and that newborns spend most of their time sleep in polyphasic stretches (multiple times in a day). Below is a basic guide:
- Newborns (0 to 3 months) – 14-17 hours
- Infant (4 to 11 months) – 12-15 hours
- Toddler (1 to 2 years) = 11-14 hours
- Preschool (3 to 5 years) = 10-13 hours
- School-age (6 to 13 years) = 9-11 hours
- Teen (14 to 17 years) = 8-10 hours
- Young adult (18-25) = 7-9 hours
- Adult (26-64 years) = 7-9 hours
- Older Adult (65+ years) = 7-8 hours
CONSEQUENCES OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
Sleep is essential to our productivity, mood, and overall health, and when it is delayed, disrupted or of poor quality, there are health consequences, ranging from mild to severe. Lack of sleep can result in problems with:
Sleep is linked to recovery, boosting your immune system and healthier overall bodily system. If you don’t sleep enough, you get sick more often, as well as heightening your risk for heart disease, gaining weight, obesity, diabetes, stroke and more. Sleep is not an option, it is a priority!
When we are tired we become less vigilant, less careful, we make mistakes, get clumsier and our chance of human error dramatically increases. This means we are more at risk of having accidents due to inattention, as well as our normally accurate motor skills failing us. Gross motor coordination and learning has also been associated with “offline learning” aka learning while you’re asleep. When we sleep, we are able to enhance these memory processes, as well as stabilise declarative and procedural memory. In plain english – our skills improve while we sleep.
Poor sleep is associated with increased likelihood of developing depression, at its most severe. Even without developing serious mental health disorders, lack of sleep or sleep disruption can cause people to become easily frustrated and irritable, moody, anxious, stressed, as well as affect their self confidence and their social behaviour. Often sleep deprived people will become antisocial or withdrawn, and less able to regulate their behaviour, which manifests itself in outbursts, hyperactive or aggressive behaviour.
Like our motor skills, when we are tired our cognitive skills decline. This leads to trouble concentrating, poor planning, poor execution, organisation, time management and general inattention. Our frontal cortex has amazing abilities to comprehend mathematics, sciences, and different languages, as well as solve and contemplate abstract concepts like philosophy and art, but if we are tired, our brain struggles. This impacts us on every level, from academic problems like falling behind in school or poor grades, to poor productivity at work, human error and sleeping on the job or missing work due to tiredness.
Sleep, particularly Rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep), is associated with storing and solidifying memory and experiences. There are theories that while we are in deep sleep, our brain is actively working through information that it was exposed to throughout the day, and without this time, we might not be learning or retaining information as efficiently as we are capable of.
Lack of deep sleep is linked to a number of negative health issues, but it may also be affecting your creativity. Studies have shown that people who enter REM sleep in naps or sleep sessions perform better in creative thinking tasks. So, if you’re creative, you may be doing yourself a disservice by burning the candle at both ends. Get some sleep and supercharge!
WHAT IS SLEEP HYGIENE?
Sleep hygiene is specific habits and behaviour which encourage a good night’s sleep. Bad habits, such as poor diet, overstimulating activity close to using your adjustable bed, and caffeinated products, can be part of the reason why people struggle to fall asleep, have long lasting sleep or poor quality sleep. There are a lot of things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep including:
- Limiting technology in the bedroom.
- Minimising mobile phone use before bed
- Not drinking high-caffeine beverages, sugar or spicy foods before bed
- Not eating too close to bedtime
- Cultivating relaxation through meditation, breathing techniques, journaling, reading
- Maintaining a regular sleep schedule with set sleep and wake times
- Refraining from exercising vigorously before bed as it raises the body temperature
- Ensuring the bedroom is comfortable, calm and sleep-inducing
- Managing stress and anxiety
There are plenty of other ways to foster good sleep habits, which will generate better health, productivity and overall wellness. If you aren’t sleeping enough, chances are you, your body and your mind aren’t functioning at full capacity. While you may or may not feel those consequences today or tomorrow, they will likely catch up with you in one way or another down the track if you don’t prioritise it. Focus on getting a good night’s sleep, because if you take care of your body, it will take care of you.
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