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Why you shouldn't be sacrificing your sleep
Kanchan Maslekar
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September 15, 2008

Are you one of those individuals who works through the night? Do you spend too much time hooked to the computer or the television till the wee hours, compromising on your sleep?

Beware -- apart from leaving you red-eyed, weary and dozing off in the middle of an office meeting, lack of adequate sleep can also result in heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other stress-related disorders.

"As our lives get busier and we try to cram more and more activities into our already-packed schedules, we sacrifice our sleeping hours," says consulting dietician Priti Apte.

The amount of necessary sleep varies from person to person, with some breezing through their days on just a few hours' slumber and others needing 10 hours of sound rest. "If you feel fresh after five hours of sleep and complete your tasks with ease throughout the day, five hours is enough for you,' she explains. "But most people need around seven to nine hours of sleep and it's necessary that the person meet this quota for a healthy life."

"Regular sleep keeps the mind alert and the body healthy, so that one can complete one's daily tasks. It also ensures proper distribution and digestion of all nutrients in the body," says Priti.

Apart from the fact that lack of sleep has a dire effect on general wellbeing and health, creativity and mental alertness, people who are unable to sleep properly at night tend to be weary most of the time and lack the ability to concentrate.

Housewife Kunika Malhotra, 32, complains that she has problems coping with minor hassles, gets irritated easily and cannot tolerate noise. Kunika has been trying to juggle her husband's late working hours and her children's early morning school preparations for some time now and can barely squeeze in five hours of sleep every night.

"I always think that I will catch up on my sleep over the weekend, but that has never happened," she says.

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According to general practitioner Dr Manoj Bhise, this is not the solution. He explains, "What one needs is regular, consistent sleep -- over-sleeping once in a while to reduce the backlog won't help."

Apart from psychological effects, lack of sleep also has an adverse effect on one's physical health. Dr Bhise informs us that a sleep deficit may put the body into a state of high alert, increasing the production of stress hormones and driving up blood pressure, a major risk factor behind heart attacks and strokes.

The newest study on obesity, conducted by Columbia University, is the latest to find that adults who sleep the least appear to be the most likely to gain weight and to become obese. Says Priti, "Researchers have found that even mild sleep deprivation quickly disrupts normal levels of the recently-discovered hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite. Adds Dr Bhise, "Patients who do not get their daily dose of sleep also complain about aching muscles and hand tremors, apart from drowsiness during the daytime."

Other health problems brought on by sleep-deprivation include, dizziness, hypertension, memory loss, nausea, fatigue, dramatic weight loss or gain. Erratic sleep schedules also throw the digestive system for a toss, often leading to constipation.

Says software engineer Mandar Bhave, "I have a US-based client and I was working through the night most of the week. As a result, I started suffering bouts of severe headaches and then one day I just collapsed in the office due to heartburn. The doctors also diagnosed the formation of an ulcer in my stomach. My body clock was all erratic thanks to irregular, inconsistent rest. The first thing my doctor advised was to get eight hours of regular sleep."

Though most of us know well enough that our bodies need sleep to rest and recuperate, we continue to reduce our rest time so that we can squeeze in the increasing demands of our lifestyle.

It's about time we started listening to our bodies and turning in for a good night's sleep everyday.

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