Sleep is a basic and essential human need, and its quality is fundamental for our physical and mental well being, yet millions of people ignore the importance of sleeping and tend to prioritize work or other activities instead of dedicating enough time to it: nowadays, with the hectic life that we live, sleeping is often the first habit that we disregard when we have a tight schedule. However, in the long run, sleep deprivation can have major effects on physical health. Generally, sleep disorders can be caused by many different factors, which might be psychological or connected to stressful physical or working conditions.
Consequences of bad sleeping
The most significant effects of poor sleeping habits on physical health are associated with heart disease, diabetes, and brain functioning. Many studies have found a positive correlation between sleep deficiency and an increased risk of heart disease; in fact, lack of sleep appears to be directly linked to high blood pressure and a consequent higher risk of heart attacks.
Researchers also believe that sleep restriction affects blood sugar levels due to its effects on the production of insulin, the hormone that controls the blood glucose level, therefore leading to an increased risk of diabetes.
Sleeping is also extremely important for the brain and can improve concentration, productivity, reaction time, and overall mental performance. One of the most fascinating researches in the last few years has also proved that the brain clears out toxin buildups much more rapidly while we are asleep.
In addition to the health-related benefits of a good night’s sleep, it is also important to underline that excessive sleepiness and tiredness per se are not only harmful to the individual, but also play a key role in human errors as they affect decision-making and concentration, and might consequently be the cause of larger-scale casualties.
Groups of workers that are considered at risk of sleep deprivation include night-shift workers, airplane pilots, doctors, and truck drivers: lack of sleep in these cases can limit the ability to be alert and focused, make decisions and react quickly to external stimuli; these are crucial features that ensure a safe work environment, hence why poor sleep in the workplace greatly increases the likelihood of injuries and even death in some cases.
What can we do?
Since the quality of sleep – or lack thereof – can impact this strongly on one’s ability to function and maintain a healthy body, mind, and overall lifestyle, and given that a wide portion of the population might be affected by sleeping issues daily, here are some tips to improve your sleep habits and prevent future serious health problems.
First of all, try to set up a sleeping schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day: this will help you regulate and improve your body’s “clock”. For the same reason, it’s better to refrain from napping too often. It is also very effective to reduce the exposure to bright artificial lights before bedtime, as they might trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, therefore making it more difficult to fall asleep; instead, choose quietness and soft lighting.
Another healthy habit is to avoid alcohol (as it disturbs the sleep cycle), coffee (it stays in the body for an average of 6 hours after consumption), and heavy meals 2 or 3 hours before going to bed to prevent digestion problems. One last tip is to use relaxation techniques, such as meditation or breathing exercises, before going to bed.