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The Effects of Insomnia on Your Health


The Effects of Insomnia on Your Health

Most of us have suffered from sleepless nights at some point in our lives, whether it is a problem at home or in work, a baby crying wanting to be fed or change, or if we simply have overdone it with the caffeine that day.  However some people suffer from insomnia on a regular basis, which can have some unpleasant effects on their health.  The University of Leeds carried out a survey recently which concluded that over 25 percent of people get only five hours of sleep a night.  The survey also showed that people were unaware of the amount of sleep they should get a night and how a lack of sleep could affect them. A study this year by researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University in the US, reported that sleeping for less than six hours a night has more of an effect on the immune system than sleeping for over seven hours a night.  Dr. Victoria Revell, a leading Chronobiologist says ‘sleep deprivation affects the immune system in many ways.’ ‘It acts similarly to a state of stress – something known to have a negative impact on immunity’. Our white blood cells (lymphocytes) don’t respond properly when we are overly fatigued.

During an experiment at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the U.S, a group of people were kept awake for 49 ½ hours and asked to look at cartoons and funny newspaper headings.  They didn’t find them amusing because they didn’t have the energy to laugh. The area of the brain that controls humour is called the prefrontal cortex, and it requires a lot of brain power because a variety of different brain processes are used when we find something funny. ‘This is the area of the brain most impacted by lack of sleep says Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep specialist.

Research conducted by Loughborough University in England showed that our voice sounds more monotone when we are sleep deprived.  Professor Kevin Morgan, Director of the Clinical Sleep Unit at Loughborough University says ‘This reflects the showing and dulling of brain activity that occurs during sleep deprivation’. ‘Co-ordinating the musculature of the mouth and tongue to form speech is quite a complicated task, and we don’t’ manage it as effectively when we are tired.  The research also found that people mispronounced certain letters when they were tired, P’s sounded like B’s, T’s like D’s and K’s like G’s.

Dr Guy Leschziner a Neurologist at London Bridge Hospital Sleep Centre says memory tends to be poorer in insomniacs, e.g. forgetting where you put your wallet etc.

He added ‘quite simply your level of vigilance falls when you are tired and you don’t take in the information you need to remember these things’.

Pain tolerance studies published in May from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health reported that insomniacs are more sensitive to pain than normal sleepers.  The tolerance test consisted of the person placing their hand in cold water for as long as possible.  Those with insomnia took their hand out earlier than the people without insomnia. Processor Nicole Tang, a health psychologist who specialises in sleep and pain says ‘sleep loss lowers mood and, in a low mood state, people are more likely to be looking for pain and be more aware of it.  ‘We also know that levels of inflammatory chemicals involved in pain are raised after a poor night’s sleep. ‘Finally, one way the body controls pain is via signals sent down from the brain, which inhibit pain sensations – it’s possible that, during sleep deprivation, this descending pathway is weakened for some reason.’


Helpful Tips to induce sleep

Meditation – Particularly guided meditation is useful for encouraging sleep.

Lavender oil – A few drops of this oil on the pillow can help to induce sleep.

Herbal teas – Teas containing chamomile, valerian or hops should help you to nod off.

Listening to soothing music will help to relax you and hopefully send you into a restful slumber.

Try to avoid having TV’s or laptops in the bedrooms as these can disrupt your sleep.

Monthly massages to expel toxins from the body should help you to get some Zzz’s.

Reading a light book or magazine at bedtime may help you to fall asleep.

Melissa Dream and Kalms tablets (from the health store) are useful for insomnia.

Talk to a friend if you are unable to sleep because of a stressful situation. Remember a problem shared is a problem halved.

(N.B as with all herbal supplements if you are taking medication please seek advice from your G.P or a pharmacist before taking them.)


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