Hacking your sleep is the best thing you can do for your health in 2019

Posted on 3 January 2019

An occasional night of broken sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health. However, an ongoing lack of sleep can make you prone to serious medical conditions and cognitive dysfunction.

“Sleep is one of the cornerstones of your health and is as vital to your wellbeing as food and water,” says Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, a specialist neuropsychiatrist at the Constantia Sleep Centre at Mediclinic Constantiaberg. “During sleep, your body works to repair and support itself. Sleep helps with healthy brain function, and it works to maintain your physical health by healing and repairing heart and blood vessels.” If you don’t get enough shut-eye, you might be at risk of developing the following conditions.

INFOGRAPHIC: What a lack of sleep does to your health

Type 2 diabetes

If you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases less insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar) into your body. At the same time, your body secretes more stress hormones (such as cortisol), to help you stay awake. This makes it harder for insulin to convert glucose (from the carbohydrates you eat) into energy. When too much glucose stays in your bloodstream, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases.


In a study published in the journal, Sleep, researchers found that adults who slept only six hours a night are more likely to be dehydrated than those who slept for eight hours. This is because the hormone Vasopressin is released both more quickly and later on in the sleep cycle. If you wake up too early, you might be missing the time when more of the hormone is released, which will disrupt your hydration levels.

Brain fog

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your memory. Researchers discovered that a bad night’s sleep can significantly reduce the binding of the synthetic compound raclopride to dopamine receptors in your brain. This reduction correlates with increases in fatigue (tiredness and sleepiness) and with deterioration in cognitive performance (visual attention and working memory).

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According to several studies, sleep deprivation can also increase your chances of becoming obese. Scientists suggest this is because when you’re sleep-deprived, you may be too tired to exercise, which means you don’t burn enough calories to maintain a healthy weight. A lack of sleep also disrupts the balance of key hormones that control your appetite, so you may be hungrier than the fortunate ones who manage at least eight hours of sleep a night.

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Dr Ebrahim’s tips to make falling asleep easier

  1. Keep your room quiet, well-ventilated and dark (invest in block-out curtains if necessary).
  2. Try to go to bed and get up about the same time each night and morning.
  3. Don’t nap during the day as it disrupts normal sleep cycles.
  4. Establish relaxing-before-bed routines – yoga, deep breathing, quiet meditation, reading a book or listening to soft music are good options.
  5. Switch off the TV and avoid social media. Troubling news will make it difficult to fall asleep.
  6. Avoid caffeine at least six hours before bedtime.
  7. Schedule exercise for the morning, rather than late evenings.

Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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