In today’s society we are expected to fit more and more into our lives. Yet this work-life balance struggle is causing many of us to trade in precious sleeping time to ensure we complete all the jobs expected of us. Sadly this is a ticking timebomb for our health.
Scientists now believe that if we sleep less than six hours a night and have disturbed sleep we stand a 48% greater chance of dying from heart disease and a 15 per cent greater chance of developing or dying from a stroke. So our ‘work hard, play hard’ society encourages us to sacrifice sleep to the detriment of our health.
More than 3.5million of us suffer from excessive sleepiness usually caused by poor sleep. Everyone has experienced the occasional night without sleep. It makes us feel tired and irritable the next day but won’t harm our health. After several sleepless nights however, the mental effects become more serious.
Brain fog, difficulty concentrating and inability to make decisions follow. Some people drop off during the day causing injuries at home, work and on the road. Long term lack of sleep affects our overall health. A recent Sleep Alliance Report showed how excessive sleepiness is damaging the health and economy of the nation. Sleep disorders are a major contributing factor to fatal road accidents, heart disease, strokes, lost productivity and the breakdown of marriages.
A recent Dutch study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology showed that good quality sleep can reduce 57% of heart related deaths each year. It looked at the risk of chronic disease in 14,000 people over a 12 year period and showed that poor sleep is as important a risk factor for Cardiovascular Disease as other lifestyle factors such as being overweight or smoking.
Over 3.5 million people in the UK suffer from excessive sleepiness but what’s the answer. If you have trouble sleeping your first port of call should be your GP who will be able to advise you about what you can do at home to help you sleep. This is known as good sleep hygiene and includes:
- establishing fixed times for going to bed and waking up (try to avoid sleeping in after a poor night’s sleep)
- trying to relax before going to bed
- maintaining a comfortable sleeping environment (not too hot, cold, noisy or bright)
- avoiding napping during the day
- avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late at night
- avoiding exercise within four hours of bedtime (although exercise in the middle of the day is beneficial)
- avoiding eating a heavy meal late at night
- avoiding watching or checking the clock throughout the night
- only using the bedroom for sleeping and sex
Disturbed sleep may be caused by snoring with more than 3.5 million of us being regular snorers. Snoring occurs because of the vibration generated as air rushes past the tissues of the mouth, nose and throat. When most people think of snorers they picture an overweight, beer drinking bloke. Yet snoring is not confined to men. Older women and children also snore. In fact after the menopause women catch up with their male counterparts.
Snoring can be caused by a number of factors. Being overweight often means you have extra fat around the throat which can stop air flowing smoothly. Sleeping on the back causes the tongue to fall back into the throat narrowing the airway. Colds and allergies can also trigger snoring as sufferers end up breathing through the mouth. Drinking too much alcohol or taking sleeping tablets at night can cause the throat muscles to relax.
‘People with respiratory disorders such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) are also more prone to snoring’ says Dr Matthew Hind who runs the Sleep Clinic at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight can sometimes improve the problem. There are also a range of anti-snoring devices such as mouth guards and nasal strips which can help prevent snoring.
The health consequences of snoring can be serious. Around 6-7 per cent of men and 3-4 per cent of women have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) where they repeatedly, stop breathing at night (see above). As well as daytime sleepiness and concentration problems, the condition is linked to a raised risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
‘We have to stop treating snoring as a bit of a joke. Snoring can affect all aspects of life if left untreated. It can cause excessive tiredness, poor concentration and relationship problems’ explains Dr Hind.