Poor quality of sleep and related disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia has become increasingly common worldwide amongst the general population. Back in the old days, sleep deprivation was rarely considered a cause of concern while treating health illnesses. Now a days, when the personal and professional lives of human beings all around the globe are being increasing governed by tensions and stress on a daily basis, the relationship that sleep has with the mental and physical health of an individual has become quite complex than it was previously thought out to be.
In 2005, The National Sleep Foundation conducted a survey which concluded that approximately 24% of the adults living in the United States of America were unable to sleep for the minimum amount of hours that were required by an average human being to be alert and attentive at work the following day1. These numbers can only be imagined to have sky rocketed since 2005, not only contributing to an increased risk of physical and mental diseases, but more recently are being considered as a facilitator in worsening existing health conditions.
Sleep and the Circadian Rhythm
What exactly is a circadian rhythm? Well, in every living being, there exists a naturally inbuilt 24-hour physiological cycle governed by biological processes that regulates the sleep/wake timeline called the circadian rhythm. This clock controls our sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. The drive for sleep generally increases during two different timeslots, depending on whether you are a morning person (between 1.00 pm – 300 p.m.) or a night person (between 2.00 am – 3.00 a.m.).
The circadian rhythm is affected by external sources such as sunlight and temperature. During the day, when sunlight is detected by our brain, it signals the body to increase the body temperature and release the hormone Cortisol which gives us sufficient energy to jumpstart the morning. In the same manner during the night time, the body’s inbuilt clock responds to the lack of light and signals the body to release the sleep hormone Melatonin. A disruption in the circadian rhythm can occur when the body is kept awake during irregular hours. This disruption can cause both physical as well as emotional health problems.
Sleep and Emotional Health
The circadian rhythm plays a very responsible role in controlling the body’s behavioral and physiological rhythms and processes. It controls and regulates the smooth functioning of these processes. A study3 published in 2014 linked disruptions in the circadian rhythm to psychiatric diseases. Another study4 published in 2008 in the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, linked circadian rhythm disruptions to mood changes and depression. A night or two of staying up late and getting less hours of sleep is not likely to do much damage to your body but if it becomes a habit, it can be a cause for concern with regards to your emotional health. An irregular sleeping pattern can cause your internal biological clock to induce Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep earlier than it was supposed to. This results in lesser hours of deep sleep, which can serve as a basis for early stage depression. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to bipolar and unipolar mood disorders and even Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Sleep and Physical Health
Physical health and well being also requires sufficient sleep to make sure that the body’s physiological processes keep functioning properly. Physical health is affected negatively by the circadian rhythm disruption caused due to sleep insufficiency. People who are sleep deprived are at a higher risk for obesity, cardiovascular diseases, weakened immune system and poor health in general. Human beings need proper sleep to start the restorative and physiological processes necessary to equip the body for the next day. Getting fewer hours of sleep than the daily requirement of 7-8 hours causes your body to go off track. The effect of sleep deprivation on your body is the same as having stress. Even a minor change in your circadian rhythm is tied to an increased risk of heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and immune system disorders. Moreover, it also increases the risks of workplace related injuries and traffic accidents.
Compromising on sleep to achieve one’s goals or tasks has become a common practice among today’s generation. There always seems to be too much for them to do and very little time. However, the importance of sleep must be emphasized upon the public, as it is not something to be taken lightly. Sleep must be put on priority in the human lifestyle because it is mandatory for a healthy mind and a healthy body.
Eugene Gabriel is a passionate blogger. He has always been fascinated by sleep and how it relates to health and wellness. Read his post on Sleep & Health. You can also follow him on twitter @eugenegabrielj.