Guest Author - Sabera Chowdhury
Sleep is essential for maintaining good mental, physical and emotional health. Many of us have probably heard about prisoners and captives being subjected to enforced sleep deprivation as a way to “break” them and make them give up secret or vital information that might otherwise be withheld under normal conditions. Lack of sufficient sleep over a few days or simply overnight can affect even the best of us and cause us to feel depressed in mood, irritable and also emotionally labile. Long term sleep deprivation has also be seen as contributing to more serious health conditions such as obesity and raised blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Apparently when the body is deprived of essential sleep, its demands for sugar, fat and carbohydrate are increased, causing unavoidable cravings, and leading us to consume generally more as well as unhealthier foods.
I caught an excerpt of a radio discussion a few weeks ago that put forward the understanding that our sleeping patterns as a whole have changed in the modern age. It would seem that a larger majority of us are sleeping far fewer hours than the optimum, and that this includes younger children and teenagers as well, for whom a certain amount of sleep is especially important given that their bodies and minds are still in the process of reaching full maturity and full functional development.
I suppose having access to most products and services and a virtual community at the touch of our fingertips 24/7, courtesy of the worldwide web, means that the temptation to stay “switched on” is ever more alluring, and even harder to resist. Whether it’s just writing that last email or chatting in virtual hyper-space for a few moments longer, we’ve all probably ended up slicing away minutes and hours from our precious nightly intake of sleep, and maybe even made a habit of doing so, without realizing the actual price we’re paying.
Sleep deprivation can have very damaging effects on our short and long term mental and emotional wellbeing, and can negatively affect our mood and energy levels, as well as our ability to think and use our minds effectively and productively. Studies suggest that long term sleep loss can compromise our immune systems and make us more prone to infection and chronic illness, because it is during sleep that the body repairs itself and manufactures proteins that protect our immunity. Constantly depriving ourselves of this necessary nightly recovery period incurs a huge cost, the effects of which won’t probably start showing until perhaps many months or even years later. The sleep “debt” that we accumulate cannot apparently be rectified simply by “sleeping in” a few extra hours over the weekend.
Every person needs different amounts of sleep for optimum function, and infants, growing children and adolescents require a lot more. What perhaps are two obvious tell-tale signs that we might not be going to bed early enough is the inability to get up when the alarm clock goes off and repetitively activating the “snooze” option until it’s almost too late, and feeling sluggish and achy and cloudy-headed instead of approaching the new day with zest.
Sleep related disorders and difficulties in sleeping well can sometimes have multiple root causes, and not just be down to chronic late nights, so if you have a long term sleep difficulty, it’s best to discuss it with an appropriate health professional, rather than suffer in silence. Sometimes when we are emotionally upset or worried about something (either a past or future event), our minds can keep going “round and round” in cycles of anxiety and repetition and completely overtake our inclination for sleep, leaving us completely exhausted in the morning. Occasional sleep deprivation is common to all of us and cannot always be helped, and sometimes is due to sheer excitement, for example on the eve of a momentous occasion that we can’t wait for.
A random article I came across on the web suggested (without citing any statistical data) that there may be as many as one in three people in the United States suffering from a sleep disorder or pronounced sleep difficulty. Even as a speculative guess this seemed quite an high figure, and if taken as an indication of people’s experience everywhere in general or at least in the developed and developing world, then it would suggest that sleep issues might be affecting a large number of us worldwide. And if this is the case, then perhaps developing a greater awareness about the benefits of sleep and really deeply understanding its essential role in the upkeep of our health and vital functioning is really necessary. While it is common knowledge to a large majority nowadays that good nutrition and regular exercise are foundations for good health, the importance of regular and sufficient good quality sleep is perhaps not as well understood within the mainstream consciousness.
It is true that our multimedia-oriented lifestyles and work culture exert more pressure on us to be “available” and “on-line” for ever more hours in the day, but perhaps it is up to all of us to collectively start introducing the concept of more “down time” into the collective awareness, and start creating a culture that really values and gives importance to “time away” within each 24-hour period for real rest, sleep and recuperation. Investing in a few more hours of quality sleep every night could prove more beneficial for all of our long term health and immunity than any external pill or potion could ever hope to deliver.