A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book. ~Irish Proverb

How does sleep affect your health?

1. Brain: Several nights of little to no sleep leads to decreased concentration, irritability, and forgetfulness. You will be unable to perform basic function as well, leading to an increased risk of injury or accident.

2. Weight: Studies have noted that those who get less than 7 hours of sleep a night are more prone to weight gain and obesity. The hormone that generates hunger, ghrelin, is at a higher level in those who don’t get enough sleep. Lack of sleep is also associated with an increased risk of developing Type II Diabetes.

3. Heart: High blood pressure and an increased heart rate are both associated with chronic lack of sleep, resulting in additional strain on your heart.

4. Sex: Lack of sleep can result in a decreased libido and a lack of interest in sex among both men and women. Additionally, sleep deprivation may result in decreased reproductive hormones, making it more difficult to conceive.

5. Immune System: According to one study, participants who got less than 7 hours of sleep a night were three times more likely to experience common cold symptoms after being exposed to the virus than those who regularly slept 8 hours or more.

Tips for improving sleep

1. Create a pattern: Try to go to sleep at the same time every night. Your body has an internal clock and will begin to naturally react to a routine you set.

2. Avoid electronics: Avoid using your computer, smartphone, and TV before bed. The light that these devices emit confuses the brain into stimulating wakefulness. This is related to the circadian rhythm – the day / night cycle in our brains. Try hobbies like reading or listening to the radio instead.

3. Make your bedroom sleep-friendly: Your bedroom should be dark and between 18-24 C. If possible, keep your bedroom for sleeping only. This will help you associate the room with going to sleep.

4. Alcohol is not a solution: Some people believe alcohol helps them sleep, as it can make you feel tired and might even help you nod off quicker. However, the quality of that sleep is impaired, as more time is spent in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is less restful. Additionally, as alcohol is a diuretic, your sleep may be disturbed by the need to use the toilet during the night.

5. Exercise: Exercising earlier in the evening can help you relieve the day’s stress and is good for your health and energy levels during the day. However, do not do a vigorous workout directly before bed, as this will keep you stimulated. Instead, light stretches or yoga would be suitable.

If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping or other symptoms you’re concerned about, you can book an Online GP Consultation with one of over 40+ Irish-registered GPs at Webdoctor.ie.