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Sleep - the best medicine?

The topic of sleep has been in the news a lot lately - and for good reason! There is more and more evidence surrounding the link between insufficient sleep and serious health problems. Are you getting enough?

Ask anyone who has had a disturbed night’s sleep, is struggling with jet lag or has pulled an all-nighter and they will emphasise the importance of a good night’s sleep. But the need for a good few hours of shut-eye goes way beyond removing those under eye bags. Just as having a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly are important for our health, so is sleeping well as sleep plays a huge role in healthy brain function and overall emotional well being. When we are feeling under the weather or perhaps not our normal selves, we are quick to try and identify the cause. However, many people are unaware that an ongoing lack of sleep can cause a range of different health issues.

What happens when we sleep?

On average we spend around a third of our lives asleep. Although there is not a definitive explanation as to why humans need sleep, we do know that sleep isn’t just a passive process or "switching off" bodily functions, sleep is a complex process of renewal and restoration for the body. When we sleep our brains have an opportunity to reconnect all the information we collected throughout the day - just like a computer working offline.

There are 5 different stages of sleep: 1, 2, 3, 4 which are all non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and then REM sleep. Throughout the sleep cycle, these stages progress from 1 through to REM then start again at stage 1. A complete sleep cycle takes around 90 to 110 minutes, with each stage lasting anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes.

Sleep the best medicine

Why is sleep so important?

For children, sleep is incredibly important for promoting their development, but a good night's sleep is also critical for the health of adults too. Sleep affects many different areas of our health.

1. Cardiovascular Health Sleep affects processes that keep our heart and blood vessels healthy, which includes controlling blood sugar levels, blood pressure and inflammation levels. People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

2. Diabetes risk Not getting enough sleep over a prolonged period of time can cause an imbalance in the body's hormone levels. One of the many hormones affected is insulin - a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. A lack of sleep leads to less insulin being released which affects our ability to regulate and metabolise glucose, therefore increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

3. Weight gain As well as hormones, a lack of sleep affects several metabolic processes in the body. Chronic sleep deprivation can lower levels of leptin (an appetite-suppressing hormone), raise levels of ghrelin (a hormone released by the stomach that stimulates hunger) and raise cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone).

The changes in these hormones can all contribute to unwanted weight gain as those who are sleep deprived often eat more high fat, sugary foods to provide them with a quick fix of energy.

4. Immune system Our body needs sleep to keep our immune system strong. While we sleep, our immune system produces infection-fighting substances which it uses to combat foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. Sleep deprivation prevents the immune system from building up its forces, hindering the body’s ability to fight infection.

5. Mood Just think about how one night of disturbed sleep can make you feel moody and irritable so it’s no shock that a prolonged sleep deficiency may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Sleep and mood are closely connected and poor quality of sleep can cause stress and irritability, while a good sleep routine can enhance well-being.

Are you getting enough sleep?

There isn't anything good thing about poor sleep, but for some reason, we live in a society that often views getting by on very little as an impressive badge of honour. If you're feeling moody and irritable, struggling to shift that excess weight despite all your best efforts, or you’re always catching a cold, maybe your sleep pattern is affecting your health. A general health check is a perfect way to get a deeper insight into what’s going on inside your body - to see if a few more hours shut-eye at night could help you feel better.

OurAdvanced Well ManandAdvanced Well Womantests are advanced health checks that not only look at your heart disease and diabetes risk, plus the function of your immune system, they also include key tests for thyroid and vitamins to check for any imbalances or deficiencies that could be causing you to feel under the weather.