Lack of Sleep Can Have Serious Consequences!

Satu TuominenExercise Physiologist & Wellness Specialist, Firstbeat

Stress & Recovery

Lack of sleep weakens our resistance. According to studies conducted in the 2000’s, short sleep and overweight are related in children and adults alike. In addition to overweight, lack of sleep is also a risk factor for diabetes. A study by Torbjörn Åkerstedt found that sleep difficulties doubled the risk of fatal occupational accidents. Furthermore, shift workers have a higher incidence of ulcer, coronary heart disease, stroke, breast cancer and reproductive disturbances than day workers. (Härmä & Sallinen 2008)According to a study in 1997 by the Finnish Institute for Occupational Health (FIOH), a third of 24-65-year-olds estimate sleeping at least an hour too little per day (Härmä & Sallinen 2008). A similar trend is seen in a database summary conducted by Firstbeat this year. A summary from 5744 pre-questionnaires, filled by Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment participants, shows that 34% of the people did not feel that they sleep enough (Firstbeat 2013).

Most common causes of chronic lack of sleep

The most common causes of chronic lack of sleep are occupational stress and irregular work hours. Sleeplessness caused by deviant work hours, alcohol and/or medications is very common. With men, the causes are more often work-related, whereas with women typical causes are related to children, family problems and stress. In women, hormonal changes during menopause are an additional cause of sleep problems (Härmä & Sallinen 2008). Not all lack of sleep leading to sleep deprivation is work-related. Another common cause is going to bed too late (Härmä &
Sallinen 2008). Insufficient sleep is also a typical topic in Firstbeat’s Lifestyle Assessment feedback discussions. The client usually acknowledges this and might set increased duration of sleep as a personal goal. If the quality of sleep is reduced, the need for longer sleep duration is emphasized (Härmä & Sallinen 2008). In the Firstbeat database (70 000 measured days and nights), only 65% of the recorded sleep time was identified as good recovery (Firstbeat 2013). This, together with not sleeping enough, is bound to diminish a person’s resources and coping in the long run. Typical factors that reduce the amount and quality of recovery during sleep are alcohol, illnesses, stress, intensive exercise late in the evening and poor fitness.

Tips for dealing with sleep problems / sleeplessness

The most effective way to prevent sleeplessness is to avoid stress. This can seem challenging or almost impossible, but exposure to long-term stress can be significantly reduced by eliminating stress factors ahead of time and dealing with problems promptly. According to a study by the FIOH, lack of sleep and sleeplessness can be reduced for example with the following action points (Härmä & Sallinen 2008):

  • Promote individual and flexible work arrangements.
  • Scale and organize work better to keep the work hours reasonable.
  • Pay attention to a health-promoting lifestyle: regular exercise, healthy diet, good human relations.
  • Maintain a regular and sensible sleep-awake rhythm to promote sufficient and good-quality sleep. The recommended sleep time is app. 7-8 hours per night.
  • Relax regularly and separate yourself from work during leisure time.
  • Engage in light exercise and/or take a warm bath before bed. This increases the basal temperature and helps the body relax, making it easier to fall asleep.

References:
Härmä, Mikko & Sallinen, 2008. Hyvä uni -Hyvä työ. Työterveyslaitos (”Good sleep -Good work” Finnish Institute for Occupational Health)

Firstbeat database 2013. Firstbeat.

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Satu Tuominen Exercise Physiologist & Wellness Specialist, Firstbeat

Firstbeat’s Exercise Physiologist & Wellness Specialist Satu Tuominen has explored heart rate variability for over a decade. Between heartbeats there has been lots of life lived and from there spring the stories behind Satu’s blogs. Along with experiences Satu wants to include facts into her writing, mainly about well-being and physiology, with the aim of offering the reader tools to understand their own bodily functions and how to take care of the most important resource, themselves.

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