It’s been a year since the pandemic-induced lockdown and work from home put our daily schedules into disarray. For many people, there’s now less delineation between work and rest times. And it’s playing havoc with our sleep cycles. While most of us feel that pulling an all-nighter once in a while is completely fine, long periods of deficient sleep has an adverse impact on our health. On the occasion of World Sleep Day (19 March), Lounge spoke to medical practitioners and fitness experts on why we need to be sleeping more.
“The awareness of how sleep, or the lack of it, impacts our lives is not there in most of us. But sleep deprivation affects different aspects of our lives,” says Dr Sibasish Dey, head, medical affairs, Asia and Latin America, ResMed—a digital health and connected sleep and respiratory care devices provider.
A study published a few years ago established that many Indians suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA, a condition where breathing stops involuntarily for brief periods of time during sleep). According to this study, Obstructive Sleep Apnea Hypopnea Syndrome - Indian Scenario, published in the journal Perspectives In Medical Research in 2013, between 4.4% to 13.7% of Indians suffered from OSA. The gender-wise figures are between 4.4 % and 19.7% for Indian men and between 2.5% to 7.4% for women. A variety of factors have a role to play in this, including chronic nasal congestion, hypertension and/or diabetes, or even a family history of OSA.
“People suffering from sleep apnea often snore, and their upper airway collapses. This makes it difficult to breathe and the brain wakes you up and reminds you to breathe. This kind of disturbed sleep is very common and has many consequences, including leading to type II diabetes,” says Dey.
Sleep and productivity too has a correlation. Dey adds that those suffering from sleep apnea or disturbed sleep will wake up feeling fatigued, with a headache or with body aches. Since they don’t feel fresh, they will not be able to be productive or creative and find social communication difficult.
A different study published in the National Library Of Medicine found that sleep loss resulted in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening. While the cortisol hormone has a variety of benefits, including helping control blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation, and assisting with memory formulation, too much of it can put things out of balance in the body. Too much of cortisol is known to lead to rapid weight gain, high blood pressure, mood swings, osteoporosis, and muscle weakness.
“Sleep is also vital for your fitness, especially if you are someone who is actively looking to build strength or lose weight. When there is inadequate sleep, cortisol release is higher and testosterone and muscle fractional synthesis rate is lower. And if your body is not producing enough testosterone, it will not produce enough muscles,” explains Jitendra Chouksey, founder and CEO, Fittr—an online health and fitness platform.
As a matter of fact, a report titled Effect Of 1 Week Of Sleep Restriction On Testosterone Levels In Young Healthy Men fro 2015 found that “daytime testosterone levels were decreased by 10% to 15% in a small convenience sample of young healthy men who underwent 1 week of sleep restriction to 5 hours per night, a condition experienced by at least 15% of the US working population. By comparison, normal aging is associated with a decrease of testosterone levels by 1% to 2% per year”. There is also a key link between low testosterone and risk of obesity.
According to Chouksey, many people who do not get enough sleep try to make up for it with caffeine. But this catches up with us over a period of time and we cannot perform activities as well as we would have with proper sleep and rest. “But it is also a vicious cycle. Those who do not have good sleep, cannot perform at peak. On the other hand, if you are not active enough, you won’t have sound sleep,” he adds.
But there are ways to manage your sleep. If the problem is severe, do seek medical help. But some good sleep practices should become a habit for everyone, believes Dey. He suggests following sleep hygiene, not just for those who suffer from sleep apnea but for everyone. “Follow the same sleep schedule everyday—so if you sleep at 10pm, then try to sleep at the same time, every night. During the day, get exposed to sunlight, and get some moderate exercise, but do not get your activity levels high at least two hours before bedtime. Similarly, reduce caffeine intake after 7pm. Most importantly, remind yourself that the bed is only for sleeping and not for chatting, watching TV, lounging or working. This helps to indicate to your brain that you are ready to sleep when you get to bed each night,” he says.