Sleep: Why less than 8 hours is poison to your health

The overall health of human beings revolves around many factors, sleep being one of them. Health experts say this does not only affect the subject (person), but also affects the psychosocial work environment.
A woman sleeping soundly in her bed. People who sleep less than the recommended eight hours a night are more likely to suffer depression or anxiety. / Net photo.
A woman sleeping soundly in her bed. People who sleep less than the recommended eight hours a night are more likely to suffer depression or anxiety. / Net photo.

The overall health of human beings revolves around many factors, sleep being one of them. Health experts say this does not only affect the subject (person), but also affects the psychosocial work environment.

During the Sleep Awareness Week, (March 11-17), the importance of good sleep for individuals is emphasised as a key ingredient for one to achieve their personal, family and professional goals.

A new study suggests that people who sleep less than the recommended eight hours a night are more likely to suffer depression or anxiety.

The study, conducted by researchers at Binghamton University of New York State and published in the recent edition of Journal Science Direct, found that people who have disruptions in regular sleep have difficulty in shifting their attention away from negative information, which suggests that inadequate sleep leads to negative intrusive thoughts that eventually interfere with people’s lives.

Further, it indicates that the negative thoughts can more easily expose people to different types of psychological disorders, such as depression or anxiety.

Understanding how the brain works

Sylvester Twizerimana, a psychologist and counsellor at Anglican Church of Rwanda in Rubavu District, says lack of sleep leads to brain disturbances, which may cause psychiatric problems, leading to stress which is one of the major causes of psychological and emotional disturbance.

Twizerimana is quick to point out that due to the burden of responsibility, many people nowadays end up overworking, leaving them with fewer hours to sleep, which poses a lot of risks to their overall health.

“In fact, others end up sleeping 3-4 hours only, which is very dangerous to health. A person should get 7-8 hours of sleep,” he says.

Twizerimana further says sleep plays a great role on the memory and brain of a person.

“When we talk about the psychological and emotional health, we do underline the role of the brain, and when one doesn’t sleep as required, there is memory disturbance that may cause psychological disturbance,” he says.

Charles Mudenge, a psychiatrist and lecturer at University Teaching Hospital of Butare (CHUB), says the brain drives all our emotional and thinking activities. When it’s interrupted, by not getting enough sleep, for instance, one can’t be in position to think properly, he says.

This, he says, can cause emotional disturbances which can have an impact on the psychiatric health, such as one having brain tumors, loss of memory and concentration, thus poor performance.

How to tell if one isn’t getting enough sleep

Emmanuella Mahoro, a psychologist, says there are some signs that can point to one having sleep disorders.

She says this can be manifested as one becoming weak during the day, experiencing unusual behaviour such as verbal aggressiveness, sadness, loss of interest and concentration, which affects them psychologically.

These, Mahoro says can lead to stress and the person will no longer control the social imbalances because of the brain disturbance, which affects the way the body functions.

To restore normal brain functioning, she says the person who experiences such symptoms should seek help from the right physicians.

“Such patients need psychologists, social counselors, as well as health providers to handle their problems,” Mahoro says.

Twizerimana notes that there are several treatment approaches such as exercising and psychotherapy, among others, which help to cure stress and improve one’s sleep quality.

For people who are stressed, he says different types of therapies, including physical ones, are ideal in restoring or maintaining good sleep.

“Such treatment allows one to unburden themselves and gain a fresh mindset so that they can open up to learning new coping strategies. Depending on one’s needs, giving them the right exercise and therapies is important,” he says.

Twizerimana adds that the patient should be taken through proper assessment to establish the exact cause of lack of sleep.

He also says prevention and management of chronic diseases that could result from sleeping disorders can be achieved by getting enough sleep.

How much is enough?

Mudenge explains that sleep is a reversible state of reduced awareness and responsiveness to the environment.

He says the duration of the time needed to sleep varies with age, but in general adults need not less than six hours to sleep, an average of 7-9 hours.

However, Mudenge points out that sleeping more than nine hours is also an indication of certain health problems.

For instance, he says it’s even worse if one is doing it on a regular basis. He says it increases the risk of one developing diabetes, heart diseases and obesity, among other conditions.

According to WebMD, an American leading provider of health information services, oversleeping has been linked to a host of medical problems, including diabetes and increased risk of death.

It notes that the amount of sleep one needs varies significantly over the course of their lifetime depending on the age and level of activity, but generally, sleep between seven and nine hours each night is ideal for any adult.

Mudenge adds that prolonged sleep can also lead to psychological as well as physical problems.

Mahoro says children and even teenagers need more hours to sleep than adults because they need to support their rapid mental and physical development.

“For the parents, just knowing that a growing child needs to sleep long hours is not enough. They should be in a position to know how many hours are required depending on the age,” she says.

For instance, Mahoro says newborns to 12-months-olds need about 15-16 hours of sleep a day; 1-3 years 12-14 hours; while 3-6 years and from 7-12 years need hours of sleep ranging from 10-12 and 10-11 hours, respectively.

From the age of 12-18, she says such teens need a maximum of 8-9 hours of sleep a day.

Factors that influence sleep

Apart from the busy work schedules, experts observe that there other factors that can as well affect one’s sleep either negatively or positively.

Twizerimana says it all starts with one putting a fixed time for going to bed and waking up. If this is observed and one gets time to do some yoga and take a warm shower, it can facilitate good sleep.

On the contrary, he says one should avoid using gadgets such as computers and television for long hours as they interfere with sleep.

Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of the nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital Kigali, says what we eat can as well affect the quality of sleep.

He says one can go for foods that contain unsaturated fats including legumes, fruits and vegetables because they are high in vitamins and minerals, which are good for ensuring sound sleep.

On the other hand, Uwiragiye notes that taking caffeinated products and alcohol while going to bed affects sleep.

“These drinks are not good because they interfere with sleep. One of the impacts of such kind of drinks is that it can take several hours for the stimulating effects of caffeine to wear off, while alcohol can prevent deep sleep,” he says.

Studies show that drinking alcohol before bed is linked with more slow-wave sleep patterns called delta activity. That’s the kind of deep sleep that allows for memory formation and learning. At the same time, another type of brain pattern—alpha activity — is also turned on. Alpha activity doesn’t usually happen during sleep, but rather when you’re resting quietly. Together the alpha and delta activity in the brain after drinking may inhibit restorative sleep.

Uwiragiye notes that too much alcohol is not good because it causes blood sugar levels to drop. Smoking also disrupts good sleep since it contains nicotine which is a stimulant, he says.

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