A restful sleep is a potion for a healthy life
Photo: ANDREA PIACQUADIO/PEXELS.COM

A restful sleep is a potion for a healthy life

In the last century, during the 1980s and 1990s, sleep, as a specific biological need, was largely undervalued.

The eight hours’ sleep a day advised by our grandparents, and whose scientific evidence is now indisputable, were considered laziness. Portuguese people were in the habit of going to bed late and getting up early to go to work or to school.

Many of this stigma still persist today, but we know that sleep is one of the areas of medicine where there has been greater research.

We know that, for the brain, sleep is a decisive factor in the selection and preservation of memory. This information comes from the development of knowledge obtained from neuroimaging and neurophysiology, as information is processed during sleep.

Sleep affects the entire human body and much of what we know about its function results from the implications that the lack of sleep has on us. Sleeping six or less hours a night for a week has the same impact as a full night without sleep.

The following day, a sleep-deprived person pays less attention, has a slower reasoning power, is less rational when it comes to decision-making, becomes more irritable, becomes sleepy, falls asleep or has episodes of uncontrollable micro-sleep, which can have calamitous effects at work or when driving.

Sleep deprivation is the number one cause of road accidents in the United States. This statistic is not available in Portugal. In fact, road safety campaigns do not even address this issue.

In the elderly, sleep deprivation is associated with different conditions of dementia. In fact, the symptoms of the two are very similar.

The studies are enlightening – sleeping very little, whether by choice, obligation or illness, favours the development of cardiovascular diseases (high blood pressure, arrhythmias, heart attack), diabetes and hormonal alterations. In men, sperm deformation and a significant decrease in testosterone levels occurs. There is also a decrease in the production of follicular hormone in women. An important American study showed that one in three nurses who work nightshifts experience menstrual alterations.

Nightshifts are a WHO-recognised cause of prostate and breast cancer. Finally, it is well established that insufficient sleep leads to a decrease in our defences. Our immunity against infectious agents drops. The influenza vaccination is much less effective than a restful sleep.

According to the last major European epidemiological studies, Sleep Apnoea Syndrome (SAS), affects about 30% of the adult population. Its prevalence will increase, due to its relationship with increasing obesity, but also with aging. SAS becomes more frequent as age advances, but, in the meantime, it promotes aging itself.

Concomitance of various sleep disorders is frequent. The paradigmatic example is the association between SAS and chronic insomnia, which reaches 40% and represents a huge challenge in the diagnostic and therapeutic approach of both diseases. When investigating the SAS with polygraphic sleep records, alterations are often found that are precursors of Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

If you have difficulties sleeping, ask our experts for help. Have respect for sleep and, above all, love yourself by seeking treatment.

Article submitted by the HPA Health Group