Late afternoon around 12 years ago, while I was stitching the wound of a patient in the emergency room, I came to a sudden and shocking stop, realising I couldn’t feel my hands. When I tried to understand what was happening, I couldn’t remember what I was doing with the wound in front of me even though my hands, holding the needle and forceps, automatically went on stitching the wound. I took a deep breath and tried to communicate with my hands to stop the movement because it felt like it was no longer mine.

Slowly it eventually stopped, and I stood there for quite a while. I couldn’t think of any word to answer the nurse assistant who repeatedly asked a question as if I had done something wrong. I was trying so hard to remember the whole process I had started and kept asking myself if I had made any mistake that could kill anyone or would ruin my future forever.

I took a break, went for a short walk, drank some water and came back to finish the case. That wasn’t the first time it had happened, but it had never been this bad. I decided to make that day the last time I would let that kind of situation happen again.

That’s how I learned the hard way how a lack of sleep affects the brain and body. I was highly stressed working 16-hour shifts with no day off. It had been like that for several months, and there was no end in sight. Knowing there were times when I had the life of patients in my hands, I knew I couldn’t go on in this way. The long hours with no time to rest and recuperate was severely affecting both my well-being and my ability to perform my work. Have you ever experienced something similar? I now know I was suffering the effects of sleep deprivation. What is sleep deprivation?

Sleep is a basic human need. Like eating, drinking and breathing; sleep is a vital part of the foundation for good health and well-being throughout one’s lifetime (National Institute of Health, 2012). Wellness is a choice of lifestyle you design with awareness toward optimal well-being (Travis and Ryan, 2004). Sleep deprivation can have many adverse effects on your well-being (De Andres et al., 2011).

What is the cause of sleep deprivation?

  1. Modern life is a competitive economy, creating high stress (Minkel et al., 2012)
  2. A busy lifestyle with frequent social activities and late night parties
  3. High personal demands and performance expectations at work
  4. An environment with too much stimulation, preventing the body from producing melatonin to make you feel sleepy
  5. Incorrect type of lighting in the bedroom
  6. Personal and emotional life stressors (Minkel et al., 2012)
  7. Long work hour and shift-work (Muecke, 2005)
  8. Chronic health condition

How does sleep deprivation affect the body?

Physical changes
Pale skin, ‘racoon eyes’, an increase in fine lines and faster ageing of the skin (U.S. Marine Corps, 2000). Also, it can cause the body to sway when standing, vacant stares, blood-shot eyes, increased weight, cardiovascular disease, and endocrine and metabolic health risks, including glucose intolerance (Harris et al., 2002, National Institutes of Health America's Clinical Research Hospital, 2011).
Mood changes
Low energy, diminished alertness and lack of cheerfulness are common symptoms. Additionally, there is a loss of interest in one's surroundings, a depressed mood or apathy, and irritability (Kamphuis et al., 2012, Fantini et al., 2012).
Early morning doldrums
With a lack of sleep, one's usual daily routine requires more effort, particularly in the morning and afternoon.
Communication problems
Unable to communicate well with others, sufferers can have difficulty in speaking clearly, be easily misunderstood and forgetful (McGlinchey et al., 2011).
Difficulty in processing information
Delayed comprehension and perception, difficulty assessing simple situations and requiring more time to understand information are all common side effects (Curcio et al., 2006).
Impaired attention span
Failure to complete routine tasks, reduced attention span, short-term memory loss, inability to concentrate and increased risk of accident (Boto et al., 2012, Curcio et al., 2006).

How many hours do we need to sleep?

The answer to this question depends on age and individual factors. Someone can feel great with only six hours of sleep, but others may need longer. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults need 7-9 hours and newborns need up to 12-18 hours per day (The National Sleep Foundation).

How to have a great sleep?

You may have heard sleeping tips from many different associations such as The National Sleep Foundation and have tried them. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. I challengeyou to try something new in the world of complementary and alternative medicine.

My top twenty-three recommendations for better sleep are as follows:

  1. Take a vacation; get out of your same old situation. Take a break from mind disturbances (Strauss-Blasche et al., 2000).
  2. Commit to a detox program. Reduce the intake of toxins both inside and outside your body. Eat clean, healthy food and drinks, and clean up your colon using colonic hydrotherapy. Try chi nei tsang, detox massages, a detox skin wrap, steam, sauna, and exercises that make you sweat; all of these will help to release and remove toxins.
  3. Increasing vitamin and mineral intake will help support the body while detoxing. Achieve this by consuming organic, fresh fruits, vegetables, juices and supplements (Peuhkuri et al., 2012, St-Onge et al., 2012).
  4. Go for acupuncture. There is an excellent study that shows acupuncture can help in many ways to improve sleep (Bokmand and Flyger, 2012, Cheuk et al., 2012, Dai et al., 2012).
  5. Try new activities such as yoga, meditation, Thai boxing, aqua aerobic, Pilates, fit ball, boot camp, etc. All of these will enable you to shift your mind from worry and to focus on something fun while increasing perspiration (Oudegeest-Sander et al., 2012, Lorenz et al., 2012, Coleman et al., 2012).
  6. Consult with your doctor if you believe there may be a physical problem that is keeping you awake.
  7. Consult your herbalist; try some herbs such as chamomile tea, valerian, kava, hops, passionflower and skull cap (Wheatley, 2005, Nunes and Sousa, 2011).
  8. Laugh! Research shows happiness leads to good health. Be grateful in life, don’t take things too personally, laugh, smile, enjoy it, observe it, learn from it, live it and love it (Penson et al., 2005, LaPointe, 2009).
  9. Get rid of the old lifestyle habits that are affecting your sleep and adjust to a new healthy way of living. Move toward optimal wellness.
  10. Establish a consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends. Stick to it religiously.12] Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music; begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep.
  11. Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool (don't sleep in a hot room).
  12. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and with the right pillow.
  13. Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. Keep 'sleep stealers' – watching TV, reading and using a computer, smartphone, Ipad or any social media – out of the bedroom. In particular, the light from your smartphone doesn’t just affect your sleep pattern; it also affects cognitive function.
  14. Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime.
  15. Exercise regularly during the day or at least a few hours before bedtime.
  16. Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages close to bedtime.
  17. Check the pattern of your sleep: what affects your sleep, how is the quality of your sleep, what is your recovery time. There are many gadgets on the market today to help you study your sleep pattern, such as a Fistbeat, Beddit, Fitbit and so on.
  18. Check if you have the right lighting in your room. The bedroom should be using the adjustable light for day and night. Switch to using a pale blue light at nighttime, as blue light affects your brain the least and will help you to fall asleep easier.
  19. Mind training can trick your brain into healing itself. Answer an imaginary friend with exactly how you would like your sleep to be: 'My sleep is excellent', 'I sleep like a baby', 'I always have a deep sleep', 'I sleep throughout the night' and 'I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow'. The words you use will give meaning, and this meaning transpires to feelings absorbed by your brain. Trick your brain into helping you get better night's sleep.
  20. Try biofeedback devices such as the Emwave 2 from Heartmath, this can help you to tune into a relaxing, calm and peaceful state of mind, ultimately producing the right hormones to help you sleep well.
  21. The Earth contains boundless, natural, healing energy. It successfully keeps global life running in rhythm and balance, and that includes us. Taking the time to walk in fresh air, touch the soil, look at the clouds, appreciate the flowers, feel the grass beneath your bare feet; all of this will help you to reconnect with Earth's healing energy.

Remember, sleep deprivation affects well-being in many varied ways, and each of us is different. As explained, there are many options available to assist you, just find the one or many that suit you best and put yourself or the road to long and sound sleep once again by practising them regularly. Good luck and good night!

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