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Sleep loss – causes, consequences and treatment

Bad sleep is a really unpleasant condition that can affect people of all different ages. It is characterised by having difficulty falling asleep or waking up several times throughout the night.

How much sleep do I actually need?

Most people experience difficulty sleeping at some point in their lives. Some people may feel refreshed after only six or seven hours of sleep. However, most adults need about eight hours of sleep every night to feel rested.

The important thing is to find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve that amount on a consistent basis. As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.

What causes sleeping difficulties?

Causes of sleeplessness may include ageing, excessive stimulation before bedtime (such as watching television, playing video games, or exercising), consuming too much caffeine, noise disturbances, an uncomfortable bedroom, or a feeling of excitement or anxiety. Sleeping too much during the day, lack of exposure to sunlight, frequent urination, physical pain, and some prescription medications can also lead to difficulty falling or staying asleep. For many people, stress, worry, depression, or work schedules may also affect their sleep. For others, sleep issues are due to a sleep disorder such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.

What happens if I don’t sleep?

One random night without sleep can make you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t hurt your health. After a few sleepless nights, the mental effects will become more serious. Your brain will cloud, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You will begin to feel down and may fall asleep during the day. The risk of injury and accident at home, at work and on the road might also increase. If continued, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

How to beat insomnia?

1. Regular sleep hours

Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day will programme your body to sleep better.

2. Comfortable bed and restful sleeping environment

Your bedroom should be a relaxing environment. Experts claim there’s a strong association in people’s minds between sleep and the bedroom.

However, certain things weaken that association, such as TVs and other electronic gadgets, light, noise, or an uncomfortable mattress. Your bedroom ideally needs to be dark, quiet, tidy and kept at a temperature between 18C and 24C.

3. Exercise regularly

Regular exercise can improve sleep quality and duration. However, exercising immediately before bedtime can have a stimulant effect on the body and should be avoided. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before you plan to retire for the night.

4. Cut down on caffeine

Cut down on caffeine in tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas, especially in the evening. Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep, and also prevents deep sleep. Instead, have a warm, milky drink or herbal tea.

5. Eliminate alcohol and nicotine

Nicotine is a stimulant. People who smoke take longer to fall asleep, wake up more frequently, and often have more disrupted sleep. Regular drinking can affect the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish. This is because drinking disrupts your sleep cycle.

6. Try to relax before going to bed

The goal is to avoid making plans for the next day while trying to fall asleep. For example, try making a work-related task list for the following day before leaving work to avoid taking your work home with you. That way when you get home, you can properly rest in a warm bath, listen to quiet music or do some gentle yoga to relax your mind and body.