How Sleep Pattern Effects Our Health

Dr. Faisal Khan
MBBS, SMLE, MPH, MCPS, MRCPCH-UK (Scholar), Al-Dar Hospital Madina Munawara, Saudi Arabia.

Good sleep is highly important for our physical and mental health. While we slumber and rest, our body gets rid of toxins, repairs injury, and reduces stress. Staying up till late nights is considered as bad sleep pattern, which really interferes with natural sleep pattern and hinders all those processes which are very essential for natural repair of body and brain.

A bad sleep pattern can lead to many types of disorders. Staying up till late nights, waking early on workdays and sleeping till late on days off may not be as restful as we think. A best healthy sleep pattern for us is designed by the nature, when we disturb it with our unhealthy sleep habits, our risk for diabetes and heart disease rises. The people with large differences in their sleep schedules on workdays and free days tended to have worse cholesterol and fasting insulin levels, greater insulin resistance, larger waist size, and higher body mass index (BMI).

Interference with natural sleep rhythms increases risk of heart attack, increases risk of breast cancer, increases risk of depression, increases risk of workplace injury, increases the risk of road traffic accidents, changes metabolism, increases risk of obesity and diabetes. Staying up in late night and sleep till late in day, can negatively affect a range of systems in the body. Not getting enough sleep in night prevents the body from strengthening the immune system and producing more cytokines to fight infection.

This means a person can take more time to recover from sickness as well as having an increased risk of chronic illness. Unhealthy sleep pattern can also result in an increased risk of new and advanced respiratory diseases. Unhealthy sleep pattern can affect body weight. Two hormones in the body, leptin and ghrelin, control feelings of hunger and satiety, or fullness. The levels of these hormones are affected by sleep, that is the reason night owls often go out for having food in late night hours and then suffered from sleep deprivation. This situation causes the release of insulin, which leads to increased fat storage and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. It also can affect hormone production, including growth hormones and testosterone in men.

There is a direct link between unhealthy sleep pattern and our mental and physical health, it also called “social jetlag” which refers to the mismatch between an individual’s biological circadian rhythm “body clock” and their socially imposed sleep timetables. Social jetlag relates to weight gain and some pointers of cardiovascular function. Unhealthy sleep pattern can contribute to metabolic problems, these metabolic changes can directly contribute to the development of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A bad sleep pattern weakens the ability of the part of the brain that handles reasoning, known as the prefrontal cortex, to control the emotional part, the amygdale. This leads to the abnormal processing of emotions. Good sleep is very essential to prepare the brain for learning. When the brain is deprived of sleep due to a bad sleep pattern, it is difficult for brain to concentrate and form new memories.

When we stay awake till late night or significantly cut sleep short, the body does not release the hormones necessary to regulate growth and appetite, and instead of positive hormones our body forms an excess of stress chemicals, such as norepinephrine and cortisol. Unhealthy sleep pattern, sleep deprivation and short sleep durations are predictors of weight gain in adults and children. Each one-hour reduction in sleep time per day is related with an increase of 0.35 kilograms (kg) in our body weight. These changes result in increased risks for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, and chronic sleep-deprivation.

Bad sleep pattern can have a profound impact on both emotional function and normal thinking abilities in healthy individuals, resulting in reduced tendency to think positively, bad moods, a decreased enthusiasm to solve problems, a greater tendency towards superstitious, illogical and magical thinking, intolerance and less empathy toward others, poor impulse control.

The people with a sleep pattern against the nature rules are more likely to report increased feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, powerlessness, failure, low self-esteem, poor job performance, conflicts with co-workers, and reduced quality of life. Finally, individuals with disturbed sleep pattern score higher on clinical scales measuring depression, anxiety, and paranoia.

Bad sleep pattern also leads to increase the risk of accidents. In our country most of heavy vehicles travelled during night hours, drivers, staff and passengers of heavy vehicles all are running against natural sleep pattern. Approximately, after 16 hours of staying awake, the body trying attempts to balance the need for sleep. If a person tries to resist the need of sleep and does not get enough sleep, the brain obtains sleep through short sleep attacks called microsleeps. This is an uncontrollable brain response that makes a person unable to process environmental stimulation and sensory information for a brief amount of time.

A person’s eyes mostly remain open during microsleeps, but they are essentially “zoned out” and slept already.  As the nature of these attacks is unexpected and sudden, the consequences of a sleep-deprived in an individual who is operating heavy machinery or driving can be catastrophic to the individual and as well as innocent passengers, co-workers and by-standers. Microsleeps will continue to occur despite person’s forced attempt to stay awake, and because of this inbuilt sleep mechanism, it is extremely difficult for an individual to remain awake for more than 48 hours straight.

Disturbed sleep pattern can be linked to serious accidents and poor job or school performances. It can significantly lower individual’s overall quality of life. Lack of sleep disturbs the brain’s ability to balance emotions and thinking capabilities, lowers the body’s natural defenses, and increases the chances of developing chronic medical problems. While the occasional poor night’s sleep is not a serious problem in itself, but persistent habit to stay up till late night, disturbed sleep pattern and sleep deprivation can be. Sure there is no substitute for a natural and restorative sleep pattern. So there is a need to create awareness in the society about the importance of a positive sleep pattern. A certain amount of care should be taken to prevent ongoing disturbed sleep pattern and sleep deprivation in individuals of all ages.

Unhealthy sleep pattern is a common problem in all classes of Pakistani society, especially people living in urban areas. Sleep pattern of new era is affecting majority of individuals at some point in their lives, school going children and young adults are more vulnerable. Although occasional sleep interruptions are generally no more than a nuisance. Ongoing bad sleep pattern, a routine of staying up till late nights and lack of sleep can lead to excessive daytime drowsiness, sleepiness, emotional difficulties, poor job performance, obesity and a lowered perception to quality of life. Having a bad sleep pattern alters normal functioning of attention and disrupts the ability to focus on environmental sensory input.

It has been implicated as playing a significant role in tragic accidents involving airplanes, ships, trains, automobiles and even in heavy industrial plants. Children and young adults are most vulnerable to the negative effects of unhealthy sleep pattern. The people who does not get enough sleep in night to stay awake and alert in day time, they begin to experience of sleep deprivation with severe symptoms of sleep loss, daytime sleepiness, yawning, moodiness, fatigue, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty learning new concepts, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate or a “fuzzy” head, lack of motivation, clumsiness, increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings. As a developing nation we have to do struggle more to get a respectful status among the developed nations, so as a nation we cannot afford all above mentioned sickness caused by our bad and unhealthy sleep pattern.

A healthy sleep pattern is a night sleep pattern, as per new research specific age groups are recommended for following specific sleep hours.

  • New-borns: 0 to 3 months (14 to 17 hours each day)
  • Infants: 4 to 11 months (12 to 15 hours)
  • Toddlers: 1 to 2 years (11 to 14 hours)
  • Pre-schoolers: 3 to 5 years (10 to 13 hours)
  • School-age children: 6 to 13 years (9 to 11 hours)
  • Teenagers: 14 to 17 years (8 to 10 hours)
  • Adults: 18 to 64 years (7 to 9 hours)
  • Older adults: over 65 years (7 to 8 hours)

In our society majority of people may consider sleep as wasted time and purposely deprive themselves of sleep to pursue other things such as educational goals, or money-making pursuits. But this practice has worst effects on their mental and physical health and also negative impacts on their educational and socio-economic growth. Others may unintentionally not get enough sleep because of demanding jobs, shift work or family obligations. Consistent sleep-wake patterns of going to bed late, waking up too early or sleeping till late in the day can lead to sleep deprivation, perpetuate the late sleep phase and the accumulation of sleep debt. Additional causes of sleep deprivation include depression, anxiety and other medical problems such as obstructive sleep apnea, hormone imbalances, and additional chronic illnesses.

Our behaviors during the day, and especially before bedtime, can have a major impact on our sleep. They can promote healthy sleep pattern or contribute to sleeplessness. Our daily routines, what we eat and drink, the medications we take, how we schedule our days and how we choose to spend our evenings, can significantly impact our quality of sleep. There is a term “sleep hygiene” which refers to a series of healthy sleep habits that can improve our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. A natural and healthy Sleep pattern helps the heart vessels to heal and rebuild as well as affecting processes that maintain blood pressure and sugar levels as well as inflammation control.

In order to create awareness in the society about healthy sleep pattern, as a researcher in the field of public healthcare, I would like to suggest following 18 most important tips to adopt a healthy sleep pattern.

  • Realize the importance of early night sleep.
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every morning, even on weekends or during vacations.
  • Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you are feeling sleepy.
  • If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
  • Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
  • Turn off mobile phones, TV and other electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Don’t watch movies or late night shows.
  • Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a      very light snack.
  • Stop habit of having heavy meals in mid-night.
  • Stop going out at road side dhabaas, food courts, and restaurants in late night hours.
  • Get rid of the habit of checking refrigerator for food in the mid of nights.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Avoid consuming tea or coffee in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
  • Know how sleep pattern effects our health.