Why you must have adequate sleep

Published On: March 15, 2020 09:33 AM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

More sleep will not prevent you from getting sick, but less of it can adversely affect your immune system, making a person more susceptible to bad cold or flu

I sometimes stay up past bedtime to watch a cricket match.  Recently I was watching one, and there was a promotional advertisement.    The punch line of the commercial, during Champion’s League football match, was sonamanahhai, you can’t sleep.  The message jolted me back to reality, and I suddenly realized it was way past my bedtime. I shut the TV and went to sleep, assuring myself I could always catch the highlight of the game the next day on TV.  

I know no one thinks about the day after a sleepless night.  Hence, staying up late at night often becomes a habit. You don’t need a Champion’s League match to disturb your sleep. Often you stay up late during the weekends catching up with friends, watching movies or spending time on social media.  Your decision to stay up late one night is enough to make you sleepy the next day at work.  If someone asks you if you had a good night’s sleep, you are in no condition to truthfully answer that.  I know you wanted to exercise your freedom as an adult, a kind of protest against the rigidity of workday alarm and wake up late on Sunday morning.  

Think about health 
Then again, you cannot afford that as it is work-day resulting in disruption of your regular sleep routine.  You might not know lack of sleep is hurting your health.  You may not believe me, but according to a recent study, changing your regular sleep-wake time by 90 minutes either early or late significantly increases your chance of having heart disease or heart attack. You did not realize an extra hour or two of stolen sleep on Saturday morning might be hazardous.  It sure feels like heaven after a long and tedious work week. I understand, very few people worry about spending too much time in bed.  People don’t usually realize the fact that sleeping more than the recommended amount can negatively impact their health.  

It affects your metabolism.  Now you must be thinking, what exactly is the recommended amount of sleep? For most adults, the recommended sleep time is between seven to nine hours of sleep. There might be a small percentage of people sleeping ten hours, and this could be due to some underlying health issues. Though sleeping more sounds more relaxing it significantly increases the risk of metabolic issues, along with obesity, headache, back pain, and heart disease.  Lack of sleep also harms a person.

Research suggests that routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night, is likely to demolish your immune system, doubling the chance of your risk of cancer. It is also a factor determining if you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep, even a moderate reduction for just one week, disrupts a normal person’s blood sugar levels to the extent to be classified as prediabetic.   A recent research linked sleeping less than six hours, as well as sleeping for more than ten hours, to cases of metabolic syndrome and symptoms related to it.  Now the question is, what exactly is metabolic symptom?

Well, people with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following conditions: excess fat around the middle, hypertension, low levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol, high fasting blood glucose, and high triglyceride levels. As with everything else, sleep also impacts males and females differently, so far as metabolism is concerned. Particularly, women who sleep less than six hours at night, may have more belly fat than those who maintain a sleep schedule.  At the same time, men are more likely to have both bigger waists and metabolic syndrome if they sleep less than six hours at night.   On the other hand, women, sleeping ten or more hours per night, have a higher risk of metabolic syndrome.  For men, it correlates to higher triglyceride levels. There are also other metabolism issues that we need to consider while dealing with sleep.   

Sometimes, lifestyle change also has an impact on the feelings of excessive sleepiness, despite meeting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep at night.  These reasons could be due to a new work schedule, job relocation, or an increase in physical exercise. Sometimes, excessive sleep could also indicate a potentially serious sleep disorder.   If you decide to visit your doctor because of poor sleep problems, or experiencing excessive sleepiness, be sure to take your time describing your symptoms in detail. Often, we are guilty of not giving much importance to sleep.

Why we need sleep 
Our indifference toward sleep is because we are not aware as to why we need it.  Most will say we need it because we need rest, but it remains one of the great biological mysteries.  I know by now you are thinking, what is sleeping.  To clarify, let me give you a scenario.  Imagine you just had a baby, and the doctor comes in and says, ‘all is well with your baby. We did all the tests, and everything is normal.  Congratulations, you are now proud parents of a baby girl.’ You are very happy.   Then, as a final information, the doctor says, ‘just be aware that from this moment onward for the rest of your child’s life, she will repeatedly and routinely lapse into a state of apparent coma. It might even resemble death, at times. Also, while her body lies still, her mind will often be filled with stunning, bizarre hallucinations. This state will consume one-third of her life, and I have no idea why she’ll do it, or what it is for’. You are scared.  You believe your daughter has a severe condition.  

Nothing to worry about, the doctor only defined sleep, rather than simply telling you that your baby will sleep a lot and will continue to sleep for the rest of her life.  Just as any normal person does. I know, the definition of sleep indeed, is very scary.  Until recently, that was reality, and doctors could not give you a complete and consistent reason as to why we sleep.   It appears there isn’t a simple reason for why we sleep. It almost looks like the wrong question to ask because sleep is more complex, interesting, and alarmingly health relevant. We sleep for many functions and many nighttime benefits that service both our brains and our bodies. Everyone sleeps but sleep is different for men and women.  Broadly speaking, the body clock or the circadian rhythm, an internal clock regulating the cycle of sleeping, and awake time, is a little different in men and women.  That is the reason why women tend to be early risers, and men tend to be sleep late at night. We need to understand that sleep plays an important role in our health. 

One thing is clear. More sleep will not prevent you from getting sick, but less of it can adversely affect your immune system, making a person more susceptible to bad cold or flu.  Often, we desynchronize our internal clock because of various requirements, like work, international travel, or a need to complete an assignment.  Generally, the longer we stay awake, the more we feel a need to sleep (sleep debt). On top of that, we are also influenced by aspects of social time, the hours when other people are awake, the hours when work is required, the time on the clock, and other such issues that create a sleep debt. 

Finally, to stay healthy, especially during the flu season, you need to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night. This will help keep your immune system in fighting shape and protect you from other health issues, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity.  If your sleep schedule is interrupted, try to make it up with naps. Taking two naps, not longer than 30 minutes each, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, helps decrease stress and reduces the negative impact of sleep deprivation on your immune system.  If you can’t squeeze a half-hour nap during the workday, try grabbing a twenty-minute sleep on your lunch hour, and another in the evening.  Napping is good.  Go ahead and grab your siesta, it’s for the good of your body. 
Pokharel is an educationist and author of several children’s books


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