Before we get to how sleep affects us, let’s try to define what healthy sleep is. Good sleep health has the following characteristics:
⦁Feeling sleepy at roughly the same time each night.
⦁Falling asleep quickly.
⦁Waking only infrequently and briefly during the night.
⦁Waking at roughly the same time each morning.
⦁Feeling that sleep was restorative.
⦁Feeling energetic and positive during the day.
Your sleep health is therefore made up of several components: sleep duration, sleep quality, sleep timing, and sleep regularity. Scientists have found that each of these shapes how we look, feel, and function, as highlighted by the examples below.
- Sleep duration: Insufficient sleep increases food intake by roughly 250 calories per day, on average, without substantially affecting calories burned. Over time, this contributes to weight gain, which in turn increases the risk of diabetes and other diseases. On a less serious note, people find sleep-deprived individuals less facially attractive too — beauty sleep is real!
- Sleep quality: Sleep apnoea is probably the second most common sleep disorder. In it, the upper airway intermittently collapses during sleep, stopping breathing and leading to waking up and gasping for air. This phenomenon increases daytime sleepiness and compromises many aspects of vitality — which can contribute to erectile dysfunction, for instance. Please note that since many people who have this disorder snore, lots of cases of sleep apnoea go undiagnosed, with people assuming that the snoring is benign. We’ll explore this subject more in the next article in this series.
- Sleep timing and regularity: Shift work is a common example of irregular and suboptimal sleep timing, and shift workers are disposed to many health and safety issues, from ⦁depression to accidents.
These points illustrate the importance of individual components of sleep health. Note that the components interact, however. For example, even if you’ve been up for a long time, if you try to sleep at a time of day when your body’s clock isn’t promoting sleep, your sleep quality will likely be less than stellar. It’s, therefore, no surprise that the combination of all the components is probably more important for your overall health than anyone alone.