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Let's talk about sleep

"It's AMAZING" said the racoon.

Who doesn't like their bed? (Or their tree?) It's nice and cosy and just oh so fabulous. Nobody looks forward to being rudely woken from their slumber by an ear splitting alarm, we'd all much rather remain firmly asleep, dreaming of unicorns, winning the lottery and other such glorious things. And eurgh, those nights when we lie down and shut our eyes for (what feels like) all of 3 minutes and then realise it's time to get up again...they're the worst.

We may joke about it but the truth is that sleep really is great. The racoon speaks sense.

Sleep loss and sleep disorders are among the most common yet frequently overlooked and readily treatable health problems (2)WOAH. "No sleep disorders where I come from!" said the racoon.

Sleep is a biologic process that is essential for life and optimal health. Sleep plays a critical role in brain function and systemic physiology, including metabolism, appetite regulation, and the functioning of immune, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems (1)

Sleep is a necessity and one of the most important things for our health. Numerous studies have suggested that the majority of us do not get enough sleep, with the optimum amount being 7-8 hours of quality shut eye. Don't believe us? Ask the racoon...he knows!

There are ~100 sleep disorder classifications; however, they are typically manifested in one of the following three ways:

* failure to obtain the necessary amount or quality of sleep (sleep deprivation)

* an inability to maintain sleep continuity (disrupted sleep, also called sleep fragmentation, difficulty maintaining sleep, and middle insomnia)

* and events that occur during sleep (eg, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome)

Numerous factors contribute to sleep disruption, ranging from lifestyle and environmental factors to sleep disorders and other medical conditions. Sleep disruptions have substantial adverse short- and long-term health consequences. (1)

Short term consequences of sleep disruption

As a result of the physiologic changes associated with sleep disruption, numerous health consequences have been reported. Short-term consequences of sleep disruption include increased stress responsivity; somatic problems; reduced quality of life (QoL); emotional distress; mood disorders and other mental health problems; cognition, memory, and performance deficits; and behavior problems in otherwise healthy individuals.

Long-term consequences of sleep disruption in otherwise healthy individuals include hypertension, dyslipidemia, CVD, weight-related issues, metabolic syndrome, and T2DM (type 2 diabetes). Evidence suggests that sleep disruption may increase the risk of certain cancers and death. Sleep disruption may also worsen the symptoms of some gastrointestinal disorders.

Despite the importance of sleep, up to 70 million people in the US and ~45 million people in Europe have a chronic sleep disorder that impacts daily functioning and health. For example, ~20% of the serious injuries that result from car accidents can be associated with driver sleepiness, independent of the effects of alcohol. Lifestyle and environmental factors, psychosocial issues, and medical conditions all contribute to sleep problems. (1)

The public health consequences of sleep loss and sleep-related disorders are far from benign. The most visible consequences are errors in judgment contributing to disastrous events. Less visible consequences of sleep conditions are far more prevalent, and they take a toll on nearly every key indicator of public health: mortality, morbidity, performance, accidents and injuries, functioning and quality of life, family well-being, and health care utilization. Some of these consequences, such as automobile crashes, occur acutely within hours (or minutes) of the sleep disorder, and thus are relatively easy to link to sleep problems. Others—for example, obesity and hypertension—develop more insidiously over months and years of chronic sleep problems. After decades of research, the case can be confidently made that sleep loss and sleep disorders have profound and widespread effects on human health. (2)

So's kind of important then isn't it?

Yes, it kinda definitely is.

Sleep is crucial to survival, health, recovery and mental and physical well being. It's just all round good and the majority of us don't get enough of it. In fact, we should probably aspire to be more like our friend the racoon in the sleep department. A lot of health conditions can stem from sleep disruption, thus quality sleep is a massive lifestyle enhancer, often overlooked and unaddressed.

What's the takeaway message from this?

Be more racoon.

Sleep is good.

1) Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption; Goran Medic, Micheline Wille and Michiel EH Hemels. Published online 2017 May19.

2) Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006

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