Sleep is a natural bodily state of unconsciousness, which is essential to allow the body and mind to rest and help us function emotionally, socially and physically the next day. Depriving the body of sleep for only 24 hours is enough to demonstrate a significant reduction in brain metabolic activity.
Studies have shown that depending on the person, eight hours of sleep a night is about right to maintain optimum functioning of the body and mind. But despite these guidelines work and other commitments cause many people to have less, which invariably causes problems.
Just one hour less sleep a night for a week demonstrates enough reduction in cognitive function when carrying out complex tasks, such as those in the workplace. The deterioration in our abilities gets progressively worse with a further reduction in hours slept per night, which can result in poor performance at work or danger when driving through delayed decision making. Injuries on roads in the UAE were recently described as being epidemic in proportion and it is clear that fatigue is a significant contributing factor in many road traffic accidents.
There are other consequences of reduced sleep too, which affect our immune system and reduce our ability to fight infections.
There are distinct and identifiable factors, which contribute towards full and refreshing sleep. These are non rapid eye movement (NREM) made up of light and deep sleep components and rapid eye movement (REM), which is when we dream roughly every 90 minutes – which increases in length towards the morning.
Our sleep pattern is controlled by a neurotransmitter (chemical message) in the brain, which can be affected due to a number of contributing factors. Stimulants such as caffeine affect sleep considerably, while smokers, for example, are often light sleepers and wake three or four times a night. Numerous prescribed drugs can help with sleeping patterns, although sleeping pills can adversely affect REM sleep patterns.
Look forward to a good night's sleep by clearing your mind of the day's events and problems. They will still be there tomorrow and you will be in a better frame of mind to tackle them when refreshed.
Follow these steps for a good night's sleep:
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day
- Sleep only when you feel tired and try not to nap during the day
- Don't exercise for at least two hours before bed
- Don't eat a large meal before going to bed
- Avoid caffeine and smoking for at least three hours before bed
- Take a hot bath one hour before bed
- Develop sleep rituals that work for you
- Ensure you have a comfortable bed and bedroom environment
- Dr Andrew Devine is a specialist in Family Medicine at The City Hospital Dubai.