Today is World Sleep Day, and I can begin by telling you how much I love sleep. I mean we all do, right?
Anyway, World Sleep Day is an annual event celebrated on a global scale to educate others about the importance of healthy sleep, and the burdens that poor sleep can have on us. You’ve most likely already heard before that we need on average of about five to nine hours of sleep a day (the ideal amount is eight hours). However, many of us have busy, hectic lives, that this just never happens, and we end up being sleep deprived zombies self-medicating with a cappuccino or an Americano (oh, and don’t forget the extra espresso shot, right?).
In today’s article, I have included some factual problems a deleterious sleep routine can have on our bodies and some ways in which you can improve your sleep hygiene.
Effects of Poor Sleep
Did you know that studies have shown a connection between poor sleeping habits and premature cell aging in adults? On a cellular level, our chromosomes have protective caps called telomeres. These telomeres get shorter as our cells divide over time, and eventually when the telomeres become too short, the cells stop functioning properly and age.
Short telomeres are generally associated with premature cellular aging and an increased risk of cancer.
A similar study was performed in children, which also found shorter telomeres with sleep-deprived kids. Although the children in the study showed no signs of disease at the time, it is believed they would have a higher risk of developing cancer, but also other disorders such as cardiac disease and even cognitive decline.
Poor sleep can have a great impact on our cognitive function, resulting in a higher risk of accidents. A number of studies have suggested that sleep deprivation poses an increased risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace. This can have serious consequences for those directly affected and others in the workplace.
Reaction times for those driving while sleep deprived has been shown to be similar to that of drunk drivers. In Ireland alone, fatigue among drivers is believed to contribute to about 1 in 5 driver fatalities yearly. What I find more alarming is the figures for those that admitted they have slept behind the wheel- 1 in 10 motorists.
Trying to get that first-class honors? Well, maybe you should consider treating sleep more seriously.
Imaging modality studies continue to show a link between good sleep hygiene in learning and memory retention. It’s suggested that a lack of sleep impairs a person’s ability to focus and learn attentively, and also affects memory consolidation to allow for future recall.
How to Improve your Sleep Hygiene
Here are a few ways recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other reputable sources.
- Consistency is key. Although it may not be possible all the time with our busy schedules, going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time is good practice.
- Ensure your bedroom environment is appropriate for sleep – Quiet, dark, relaxing and at a cool, comfortable temperature.
- Remove all electronic devices from your room prior to sleep.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks 6 hours before bedtime, and excessive alcohol consumption 4 hours before bedtime. Also, try to avoid large meals before bed.
- Being physically active during the daytime can help you fall asleep more easily at night. However, avoid doing exercise very close to bedtime.
Ola is a medical student at The Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI).