Sleep is not just for sleep specialists. Here’s why.
Sleep is a mystery. Indeed, while sleeping is as natural as eating or drinking, we barely understand its role. All we know is that sleep is essential to our health. We cannot function without it. Therefore, the last decade has seen an increased focus on sleep from the medical and scientific communities. As sleep medicine is still young, it is fair to ask just how important sleep is. And what does it matter to physicians outside of sleep medicine? The short answers are “very” and “a lot”, but keep reading to know the extended version.
The benefits of sleep
Sleep is not a waste of time; to know its importance, one only has to look at how highly conserved sleep is throughout evolution and across species. And while the function of sleep remains poorly understood, clear benefits have been identified.
Memory is dependent on good sleep. Sleep helps improve focus and concentration and is directly involved in memory consolidation.
Immunity relies heavily on sleep. Research has shown that good sleepers have a more robust immune system and less severe allergic reactions. Furthermore, sleep plays a vital role in the regulation of cortisol. Indeed, lack of sleep results in an increased production of cortisol which can impair the immune system.
The consequences of bad sleep
Sleep can be unhealthy in many ways, such as poor quality, insufficient duration, or increased fragmentation. Similarly, many causes can lead to unhealthy sleep:
- Sleep disorders (sleep-disordered breathing, insomnia...)
- Poor sleep hygiene
- Significant co-morbidities (depression, pain…)
- Social factors (social jet lag, chronic sleep deprivation)
Unhealthy sleep can then have an impact on health. Poor sleep is a risk factor for cardiovascular, psychiatric, or metabolic disorders. Indeed, unhealthy sleep has been associated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, atrial fibrillation, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease.
Bad sleep impacts all areas of life
Unhealthy sleep leads to many adverse outcomes outside of its impact on health. Lack of sleep impairs memory, schematic thinking and decision making and can lead to emotional or behavioural changes. Sleeplessness can lead to impaired perception, difficulty concentrating, vision disturbances, and slower reactions.
Poor sleep can also strongly interfere with the quality of life. Several studies in different populations found a negative association between poor sleep deprivation and health-related quality of life. The impact of sleep on quality of life is significant in populations where the quality of life is already impaired by difficult-to-treat factors such as chronic pain or cancer.
Moreover, several studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases the risk of workplace and road accidents, with some evidence that it can impact cognitive performance in the same way as alcohol consumption. Sleep deprivation also has an as severe impact on productivity. In 2016, experts estimated the annual cost of sleep deprivation on productivity to be £40 billion in the United Kingdom.
Bad sleep is not inevitable
Sleep is not just about sleep. Sleep is an essential part of our health, and a sleep disruption will impact every system. Therefore, sleep's positive and negative impacts justify that we work to improve patients' sleep.
Sleep disorders should be an important area of concern for health professionals. In this way, we could compare sleep to obesity. Obesity might be the field of dieticians and endocrinologists, but its effect is so overreaching that any physician will consider and treat obesity.
Yet, sleep disorders are under-diagnosed. Several studies have repeatedly shown that sleep disorders are frequently ignored, even in populations at higher risk of sleep disorders.
Making sleep medicine more accessible
At Nomics, we believe that sleep deserves to be recognised as an essential part of our lives. We want to enable physicians to investigate sleep, regardless of their field, training or expertise. We believe that sleep is too important to be limited to sleep clinics. That is why we have developed Brizzy+: to make sleep accessible to all.