How poor sleep affects our health – by Claire Kimber

Claire KimberStress is strongly associated with sleep disruption, as alterations in our stress response, which is regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, can interfere with natural sleep patterns. Although the activity of the key stress hormone cortisol is reduced when we first fall asleep, levels of cortisol and its precursors rise in the morning, and are the decisive factor regulating when we wake.

How can poor sleep affect our health?
Sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome, as well as simply the failure to get the required
 amount or quality of sleep, have been linked with a wide variety of poor health outcome.

For example:
Obesity – inadequate sleep duration and quality may be contributing factors to increased body weight. A number of mechanisms have been suggested, including reduced sleep duration leading to increased consumption of high sugar and fat foods, altered levels of appetite-regulating hormones (leptin and ghrelin) and reduced physical activity.

Insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes – sleep disturbances are linked to abnormal glucose metabolism and an increased risk of type II diabetes. Sleep deprivation is thought to lead to reduced glucose clearance during waking hours (the brain, the major user of glucose in the fasting state, uses less glucose when we are sleep deprived). In addition, sleep disruption can lead to an increase in the activity of our sympathetic nervous system (which prepares our bodies for physical and mental activity). This can have inhibitory effects on insulin release, and can increase adrenaline and noradrenaline levels, which act to raise blood sugar levels.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) – sleep disruption is also linked to elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, risk factors for CVD. This may be due to the effect of insomnia on our stress response and increased sympathetic nervous system activity, both of which can contribute to metabolic pathways which can contribute to CVD .

Mood disorders and cognition – disrupted sleep can be a significant contributing factor to the development of depression, possibly due to its effects on serotonin function (altered serotonin function is thought to be a key driver in depression).

Effect on the immune system – immune activity is boosted during the early part of sleep, promoting the initiation of adaptive immune responses including antibody production. Prolonged sleep loss is considered a pro-inflammatory state involving increased production of a number of pro-inflammatory signalling molecules, and is associated with immunodeficiency .

Gastrointestinal disorders – the effect of sleep disruption on immunity and inflammation may also explain the increased incidence of gastrointestinal conditions including, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

To look at how The Terrace could support you, contact us to arrange an appointment with Claire Kimber, our Nutritional Therapist. Call 01823 338968 or email

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