With the cold weather creeping up on us, it’s getting harder to get out of bed. Sleep has been on my health agenda this year. Given the work I do as a psychologist, I am well aware that good quality sleep is paramount for a functioning brain.
I remember a long time ago when I was a young mum, studying psychology, and working a few hours a week, sleep was a luxury – haha. I had a moment in a lecture room where I said to my best friend, “Can you see those green leprechauns?” She looked at me with those ‘your crazy’ kind of eyes and told me I was hallucinating and needed more sleep. She was right; it was my introduction to what can happen when we are sleep deprived.
Sleeping and dreaming are topics we probably don’t think about much.
I guess we think it’s as simple as we get tired, we sleep, we sleep we dream. However, the statistics indicate that nightmares and sleep problems are quite prevalent amongst children, adolescents, and adults, with about one third of the adult population reporting some form of insomnia . Symptoms include difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, restlessness, waking up too early, not getting enough sleep, or compromised sleep quality. Getting too much sleep can also be bad.
So, what’s so terrible about being sleep deprived, oversleeping, and having a disturbed sleep cycle?
Science tells us that adults need approximately six to eight hours sleep each night, whilst the younger population even more than this.
Not surprisingly, disturbed or insufficient sleep has been linked to a diminished immune system, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, disrupted blood sugar levels, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and even suicidality .
In addition, when fatigued or drowsy we are likely to have more accidents, we tend to eat more due to an increase in a hormone that heightens hunger, we cut years off our life span, and too many consecutive days without sleep = death. Geebus, that sounds serious.
Thankfully, for the most part, sleep is comforting. With a good night’s sleep we can feel refreshed, energised, and be clear headed. The way sleep works is we have a 24 hour clock deep in our brain that creates the day-night cycle, during which a brain chemical – melatonin – builds up to promote sleep onset. This is called the circadian rhythm, which may vary from person to person.