By Sade Oguntola - Nigeria
If you aren't getting enough sleep, you may need to develop and maintain healthy sleeping habits, Experts warn that aside poor sleep increasing a person's risk of developing obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, it also causes mild thinking problems.
Sleep is essential for a person's health and wellbeing. Most living creatures live according to a fairly regular sleep cycle. And for a reason, it is part of your survival mechanism. Yet millions of people do not get enough sleep and many suffer from lack of sleep.
However, sleep needs of people vary. In general, most healthy adults are built for 16 hours of wakefulness and need an average of eight hours of sleep a night. However, some individuals are able to function without feeling sleepy or drowsy after as little as six hours of sleep.
Others cannot perform at their peak unless they have slept 10 hours.
Poor sleep habits are among the most common problems encountered in our society. Many people stay up too late and get up too early. Some people interrupt their sleep with drugs, chemicals and work while others over stimulate themselves with late-night activities such as television and night calls.
A good night's sleep is one of the pleasures of life, but poor sleep ages the brain. Evidences indicate that the amount and quality of sleep could be linked to mental deterioration and Alzheimer's disease.
At the Alzheimer's Association annual meeting in Vancouver, researchers provided evidences for health problems associated with poor sleep. Too little or too much sleep, for instance, in one study, is equated with two years' brain ageing. A separate study concluded that people that experience disrupted breathing during sleep, as a result of snoring, were more than twice likely to develop mild thinking problems or dementia compared to problem-free sleepers.
Another suggested that excessive daytime sleepiness may foretell diminished memory and thinking skills, leaving them less sharp in old age. This is known as cognitive decline.
The largest of the studies, which examined data on more than 15,000 women in the U.S. Nurses' Health Study, suggested that those who slept five hours a day or less, or nine hours a day or more, had lower average mental functioning than participants who slept seven hours per day. The findings of this study, on women over 14 years beginning in middle age, revealed that too much or too little sleep was cognitively equivalent to ageing by two years,
Regardless of how long they usually slept at the beginning of the study, the study observed that women whose sleep duration changed by two hours or more a day from mid- to later life had worse brain function than participants with no change in sleep duration.
Certainly, sleep needs of individual vary. But, irritability, moodiness and disinhibition are some of the first signs a person experiences from lack of sleep. If a sleep-deprived person doesn't sleep after the initial signs, the person may then start to experience apathy, slowed speech and flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to be novel or multitask.
However, Dr Stephen Oluwole, a neurologist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said that it was true that one's quality of sleep could affect one's cognitive skills, adding that studies had shown that those that had enough sleep were better in school than those who either slept too much or too little.
He said that the body had an optimal number of hours of sleep that it needed. "If it is too long, the individual wakes up drowsy and fit is too short, he wakes up not feeling fresh," he said.
According to the expert, very few people have uninterrupted sleep because most people experience micro awaking. Some individuals wake up and go back to sleep and would not even remember waking up, some to go and urinate , check for the time, kill a disturbing mosquito and some to pray.
However, he declared that the mere fact that you had your sleep interrupted because of a big noise or to read in the night might not really affect your ability to regain your cognitive function.
However, the situation may be different in the case of say people who because of their shift work have to interrupt their sleep. He said that this would affect their whole body system and not only the cognitive aspect
Dr Mayowa Owolabi a consultant neurologist, also with UCH, Ibadan, raised the fact that one's ability to recollect one's memory could be affected in persons that have their sleep interrupted from snoring.
According to him, in people that snore, the respiratory tract is blocked during certain periods and so leading to a reduction in amount of oxygen available to the brain. This may lead to the functions of the brain getting impaired. This might manifest in different ways, the individual may feel drowsy during the day, reducing reaction time and memory may be impaired.
Psychologists and other scientists who study the causes of sleep disorders have shown that such problems can directly or indirectly be tied to abnormalities in the body's system such as the brain and nervous system, cardiovascular system, immune system and the metabolic functions.
What is more, poor sleep has been linked with high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart failure, heart attack and stroke, diabetes and obesity. A review published in The American Journal of Human Biology stated that lack of sleep could impact appetite regulation, impair glucose metabolism and increase blood pressure.
The researcher accumulated evidence from experimental and observational studies of sleep. Observational studies revealed cross-sectional associations between getting fewer than six hours sleep and increased body mass index (BMI) or obesity.
The studies revealed how signals from the brain which control appetite regulation were impacted by experimental sleep restriction. Inadequate sleep impacts secretion of the signal hormones ghrelin, which increases appetite, and leptin, which indicates when the body is satiated. This can lead to increased food intake without the compensating energy expenditure.
Moreover, the tread that links high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart failure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and obesity with poor sleep is the body's response to injury, infection, irritation, or disease. According to experts, poor sleep increases levels of C-reactive protein and other substances that reflect active inflammation. It also revs up the body's sympathetic nervous system, which is activated by fright or stress.
Sometimes heart disease is a cause of poor sleep. People with heart failure may wake up with trouble breathing, which stems from fluid build-up in the lungs. There is also some evidence that heart failure leads to sleep apnea, a breathing problem that can awaken a person repeatedly throughout the night. Some people have night time angina (chest pain), bouts of atrial fibrillation, or palpitations (the sensation of a racing or pounding heart) that disturb sleep.
However, enjoying good-quality sleep, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can all make a difference in reducing ageing of one's brain.