By Henrylito D. Tacio
In these days of iPODs, DVDs, mobile phones, text messaging, 24-hour news programs, midnight sales, and call centers, who needs to sleep?
“We’re so busy that we just don’t have sufficient time to get the sleep we need,” deplores Dr. Patrick Gerard Moral, head of the sleep and snore diagnostic and treatment unit of the University of Santo Tomas. “It’s not just work that makes them cut down on sleep but also their lifestyle. Simply socializing or surfing the Internet can engage people far beyond their bedtimes.”
A recent AC Nielsen poll found that 40 percent of Asians go to bed only after midnight. In the Philippines, more and more people are sleeping late at night. In fact, some of them go to bed already when the sun is ready to rise.
When he was still a law student, Kelvin King Lee slept only about five hours a night. “It’s usually because I’m either studying late or writing and editing,” he said. At that time, he also edited his university’s law journal and wrote a regular column for Sun Star Davao. Often, he lied in bed memorizing legal cases or thinking up topics for his weekly column.
What these sleep thieves don’t know that a good night’s sleep is more important to their health than they may realize. A good night’s sleep means waking up rested and energized. On average, a healthy adult needs between six and eight hours of sleep a night, according to Dr. Ravi Seshadri, a sleep expert and clinical director of MD Specialist HealthCare at the Paragon Medical Center in Singapore.
However, the amount of sleep it takes to achieve rejuvenation varies from person to person. “It’s not a fixed number,” says Dr. Moral, adding that length is not the only important factor in sleeping but the quality as well. Also, people who lose sleep every night will suffer from what he calls sleep debt. “The sleep debt is compounded over a prolonged period and recovery will take much longer than the actual hours lost,” he explained.
Some people think that because a person lacks sleep, he will get thinner. Such is the exact opposite. According to Dr. Yue-Joe Lee, a physician and professor in the Department of Psychiatry at National Taiwan University, insufficient sleep may affect three hormones that can contribute to obesity. First, there’s leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone found in our fat and its levels are regulated during sleep, he says. Then, there’s ghrelin, which triggers appetite and increases with sleep deprivation. Our bodies then produce more of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases fat storage.
Not only do the increased hormones resulting from sleep loss cause us to eat more but most of us also make poor food choices when we’re tired. “Get sufficient sleep if you don’t want to gain weight,” Dr. Lee advises.
Another reason why we need to get more sleep: it could boost our memory. A Harvard experiment showed that subjects taught complex finger movements such as a piano scale recalled them better after 12 hours’ sleep than 12 hours’ wakefulness.
During sleep, brain neurotransmitters – the chemicals that deliver messages between nerve cells in the brain – are replenished. “Any form of stress, including lack of sleep,” says Dr. Moral, “results in the depletion of the brain chemicals thus causing emotional disturbances,” including depression, anxiety, and general feeling of anger or sadness.
If you want to live longer, then you better have enough sleep. Persistent sleep debt affects carbohydrate metabolism and hormone function in a way that may increase the severity of age-related chronic disorders. A large-scale study concluded that people who sleep six to seven hours a night lived longer than those sleeping less than 4.5 hours.
One reason why good sleepers live longer is that their immune system is not compromised. “The immune system works best when you’re asleep,” reports professor Stanley Coren, author of Sleep Thieves. “That’s when your natural killer cells are generated.” Natural killer cells are produced in the bone marrow and found in the blood and lymph fluid.
“Natural killer cells are part of your body’s defense system against external infections,” says Dr. Ong Kian Chung, a consultant respiratory physician at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Center in Singapore. Melatonin, produced when you sleep, is a cancer-fighting oxidant. Night-shift workers may have up to 70 times greater risk of breast cancer. Also, the chemical to repair damage to the stomach lining is secreted during sleep, so staying up all night regularly could raise your risk of ulcers.
People whose parents or relatives have suffered from cardiovascular diseases should always get a good night’s sleep. “Sleep deprivation may potentially increase risk for the development of cardiovascular problems,” says Dr. Rafael Castillo, a consultant cardiologist at the Manila Doctors Hospital. A study done by Columbia University found that sleeping less than five hours double the risk of high blood pressure.
Two most common problems that usually rob a person of a good night’s sleep are insomnia and sleep apnea.
Insomnia – a chronic inability to sleep or to remain asleep through the night — ranks right behind common cold, stomach disorders, and headache as a reason why people seek a doctor’s help. The condition is caused by a variety of physical and psychological factors. These include emotional stress, physical pain and discomfort, disorders in brain function, drug abuse and drug dependence, and other problems that produce anxiety and other problems.
Treatment may include sedatives, tranquilizers, psychotherapy, and exercise. “It’s true that you can develop a tolerance to them,” said Dr. Moral of sleeping pills. “But there are now pills that don’t have any side effects.
Some people say that snoring is a good sign of a sound sleep. Actually, snoring is one of the symptoms of sleep apnea. “The person literally stops breathing,” explains Dr. Earl Dunn, a professor of family medicine at the Sunnybrook Medical Center Sleep Laboratory in Toronto. “People who are heavy snorers, who stop snoring at night, can have episodes where they are not breathing.”
Those most people prone to sleep apnea are “overweight, middle-aged men,” said Dr. Philip Smith, director of the John Hopkins University Sleep Disorders Center. “If you fall into that category, and you snore pretty loudly – that is, loud enough to be heard outside the room – the chances of your having sleep apnea are pretty high. Go see your doctor.”
Mild cases can improve with weight loss; sleeping on your side can also help. For more severe cases, patients find relief by using a machine that forces air through the nasal passages during sleep. — ###