Working long hours to meet deadlines or hold business meetings may be unavoidable for today's executives. But when such schedules add up to erratic sleeping patterns, it is time to wake up to potential health hazards. If you are feeling too irritable too often, finding it difficult to focus or feeling depressed, suffering from reflux (reverse flow of food that results in gastric problems and stomach pain), acidity and heartburn, gaining weight and most importantly, gaining belly fat, do not ignore these symptoms. One key issue that can cause all or some of them is loss of sleep, doctors tell us.
Dr P. Aparna Reddy, consultant pulmonologist and paediatrician at Hyderabad-headquartered Rainbow Hospitals, has studied this subject in depth and seen these symptoms in both adults and children. According to her, "Sleep helps modulate the neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism. If there is erratic or poor sleep on a regular basis, it can trigger a hormonal imbalance, increase diabetes risks due to decreased insulin sensitivity and show up in increased belly fat." Poor sleep also breaks the circadian rhythm, she adds, which means the body's biological ability to synchronise day and night functionality gets disturbed. If left unchecked, one may suffer from heart conditions, obesity, high BP, diabetes and even stroke.
Sleep repairs and reorganises the brain, and restores brain energy, especially when it is tuned to the body clock. It means six hours of sleep during the day is not the same as the sleep you get at night, including three-four cycles of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. However, a few lifestyle changes such as avoiding work schedules that constantly clash with your internal body clock could go a long way. It should be coupled with regular exercise, yoga, walking and a healthy diet.
All these are worth a try instead of suffering from the conditions mentioned above or reaching a stage when you need a doctor to do a sleep analysis to measure how much and how well you sleep and then prescribe some suitable treatment.
IF YOU think asthma and breathing problems are triggered by pollution or constant exposure to fungus-contaminated air conditioners, it is time to study the symptoms a bit more closely. Doctors point out that the impact of poor sleep on pulmonary issues or breathing disorders is a growing area of research for pulmonologists. "Central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea are serious disorders in which one's breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, and these are a growing concern," says Dr Reddy of Rainbow Hospitals.
Then there is obesity-induced asthma. A person is said to be obese when the Body Mass Index is 30 or more and this condition may reduce one's lung power over time. One should also check the peak expiratory flow, the measure of one's air expiration capacity. If it is 30-40 per cent less than his/her best results, it means the lung volume and breathing capacity have decreased. It tends to happen to obese people and they may experience asthma-like symptoms. More research is required as obesity is a growing problem and doctors cite studies that say the number of obese people in India has just about doubled from what it was in the late 1990s.