Studies show that sleep helps in improving our learning and problem-solving skills
Sleep is an important part of our daily routine – we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. Quality sleep – and getting enough of it at the right times – is as essential as food and water, says Sibasish Dey, Head, Medical Affairs, Asia and Latin America, ResMed.
Globally, studies have shown that sleep along with other benefits, helps in improving our learning and problem-solving skills. Whereas sleep deficiency on the other hand alters neuro-cognitive process, and we may experience symptoms such as irritability, poor decision making, low problem-solving skills, depression, loss of memory, among others. Thus, this World Sleep Awareness Month (March), let’s take a pledge to relook at our sleep schedules, maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and also increase conversations around the need for a healthy sleep hygiene.
Why are we sleep deprived?
Barriers to a good sleep cycle may include a hectic lifestyle, long erratic working hours, and sleep disorders. Also, habits such as too much screen time, lack of physical activity, consumption of caffeine before bedtime and low exposure to sunlight may disrupt our sleep cycle. Underlying, sleep disorders are also causative of poor sleep. Insomnia is a widely known disorder, but obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is a form of sleep disordered breathing, is also a common sleep disorder. OSA is caused due to momentary stopping of breath due to relaxation of neck muscles while sleeping and can lead to repeated micro-awakening during sleep. Statistics have shown that around 28 million people suffer from sleep apnea in India, 80 per cent of whom are undiagnosed.
What are the consequences of a disordered sleep cycle?
The cumulative effects of a long period of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been linked to deleterious health consequences, including an impact on our cognitive functions, cardio-metabolic diseases, obesity, impaired immunity, etc. OSA impairs glucose metabolism and promotes weight gain, which puts us at the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Individuals with OSA are at a higher risk of stroke and irregular heartbeats. Hence, quite often OSA management goes hand-in-hand along with cardio-vascular medications in individuals who have had a history of cardiac disease.
Few studies have also linked impaired sleep with the risk of cancer. A research at Stanford University has confirmed that sleep deprivation alters the balance of two hormones, cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol helps in the regulation of immune system activity whereas melatonin helps to fight tumour growth and promote DNA repair, leading to cancer protective effects.
Sleep disorders have also been linked to road traffic accidents and major industrial accidents globally.
How can we sleep better?
It is important to be in sync with our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. We must set aside 8 hours for regular sleep and try to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Exercise and exposure to sunlight are important to get good sleep. Pre-sleep activities such taking a warm bath and meditation also helps us sleep well.