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Many effects of a lack of sleep, such as feeling grumpy and not working at your best, are well known. But did you know that sleep deprivation can also have profound consequences on your physical health?

One in three of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed.

However, the cost of all those sleepless nights is more than just bad moods and a lack of focus.

Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesityheart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy.

It’s now clear that a solid night’s sleep is essential for a long and healthy life.

How much sleep do we need?

Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it.

As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.

A variety of factors can cause poor sleep, including health conditions such as sleep apnoea. But in most cases, it’s due to bad sleeping habits.

Find out the common medical causes of fatigue.

What happens if I don’t sleep?

Everyone’s experienced the fatigue, short temper and lack of focus that often follow a poor night’s sleep.

An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health.

After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll start to feel down, and may fall asleep during the day. Your risk of injury and accidents at home, work and on the road also increases.

Find out how to tell if you’re too tired to drive.

If it continues, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Here are seven ways in which a good night’s sleep can boost your health:

1. Sleep boosts immunity

If you seem to catch every cold and flu that’s going around, your bedtime could be to blame. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you’re less able to fend off bugs.

2. Sleep can slim you

Sleeping less may mean you put on weight! Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get seven hours of slumber.

It’s believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone).

3. Sleep boosts mental wellbeing

Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it’s not surprising that chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

When people with anxiety or depression were surveyed to calculate their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than six hours a night.

4. Sleep prevents diabetes

Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of having or developing diabetes.

It seems that missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose – the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel.

5. Sleep increases sex drive

Men and women who don’t get enough quality sleep have lower libidosand less of an interest in sex, research shows.

Men who suffer from sleep apnoea – a disorder in which breathing difficulties lead to interrupted sleep – also tend to have lower testosterone levels, which can lower libido.

6. Sleep wards off heart disease

Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.

7. Sleep increases fertility

Difficulty conceiving a baby has been claimed as one of the effects of sleep deprivation, in both men and women. Apparently, regular sleep disruptions can cause trouble conceiving by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones.

Despite promising results in an earlier trial, people taking the experimental drug intepirdine in the Phase III MINDSET trial did not see any substantial benefits in memory and thinking compared to those who took a placebo. These disappointing results feel like yet another setback, but Dr Clare Walton our Research Communications Manager explains why we should still be optimistic.

A drug to manage the symptoms of dementia

Intepirdine was being tested as an add-on to existing Alzheimer’s medications. It wasn’t expected to slow down the brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s, but based on earlier studies, researchers were hopeful that it would go further than the existing drugs to help people cope with the symptoms of dementia.

Given that we haven’t seen a drug approved for any form of dementia since 2002, new approaches to treat the symptoms and to slow the disease are both urgently needed.

Over 1000 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease took part in the trial. They took either the experimental drug or a placebo every day for 6 months, on top of a stable daily dose of donepezil, the most common treatment for Alzheimer’s.

At the end of the study, there were no significant differences in memory and thinking abilities between those who took the drug and those who took the placebo. There were also no improvements in how well people were able to complete their daily activities such as dressing, cooking and using public transport.

The conclusion – that intepirdine does not work as a new drug for people with Alzheimer’s.

Broadening the focus of drug discovery

It’s true that drug discovery for Alzheimer’s disease has been riddled with negative results, but this latest failure isn’t a reason to lose hope. Up until now, most Alzheimer’s drug research has focused on a very narrow range of targets. Drugs in development have either focused on the build-up of amyloid plaques, or have tried to change the imbalance of chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain. This is what intepirdine does.

Although we know both of these mechanisms are important in Alzheimer’s, we also know of several other pathways that go wrong and contribute to disease progression. Alzheimer’s Society has recently committed £50m as a founding funder of the UK Dementia Research Institute, which will fund over 400 scientists to investigate the underlying causes of all forms of dementia. By exploring a much wider range of disease mechanisms, their research aims to unlock the doors to many alternative treatment approaches.

Dementia Research Institute graphic
Plans for the UK Dementia Research Institute

 

Researchers within the UK Dementia Research Institute, and indeed across our £30m research portfolio, are looking into a number of exciting leads. These include: the critical role that cells and chemicals of the immune system play in dementia; the way in which connections between brain cells are disrupted early in the disease; what changes in the complex relationship between blood vessels and brain cells as dementia takes hold; and more exploratory work such as the role of sleep and gut bacteria in predisposing people to dementia.

Working across these diverse research areas and casting our net more widely should dramatically increase our chances of finding new drugs that really work.

Dr Doug Brown, our Director of Research and Development, said: ‘The UK Dementia Research Institute is a ground-breaking initiative that could not have arrived at a better time. As the number of people living with dementia in the UK is set to reach 1 million by 2021, the stakes are too high to fail.’

Time is of the essence

Of course for people living with dementia now, time is still the most important issue. With another drug failure comes the disappointment that it will be a few years before we see the next promising drug trial deliver its results. While we wait, we need to look at ways to shortcut the drug development process – which is the focus of our Drug Discovery programme. It tests whether drugs already in use for other health conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or high blood pressure, can work for people with dementia too, potentially reducing development time in half.

We’re also investing heavily into care research that looks at non-pharmacological ways to help people with dementia manage their symptoms and to be supported to live in their communities as well as possible for as long as possible.

 

Autism West Midlands is the leading charity in the West Midlands for people affected by autism. We exist to enable all people with autism, and those who love and care for them to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.

Because autism is closely linked to anxiety, one of the main benefits of professional care and support is to minimise anxiety and distress. This is achieved by close knowledge of the individual with autism, and by providing security and structure.

Professional support can also expand boundaries. Even though people with autism are often resistant to change and anxious about change, they may also be open to new experiences. Professional care can, for example, expand dietary choices. Additionally, where people with autism need a structured day, part of the structure can and should be activities which they enjoy.

People with autism often have strong interests, even obsessions, in certain subjects – for example Dr Who; The Beatles; computer games. A structured programme will enable them to spend some time in following these interests, as part of a balanced programme of activities. A balanced programme for an adult with autism might include some time at College; some time in physical activity (for example swimming or a walk); some time on personal care; perhaps sometime on food preparation; some time on the individual’s particular interests. This is only one example: some people with autism would not be physically or mentally able to carry out all these activities; others – for example someone high-functioning with Asperger syndrome – may be fully able to plan their own time. The message is to try to deliver a varied programme within a known structure. The structure will tend to minimise anxiety; the variety can help develop skills and provide interest.

Please click here for downloadable information sheets

Voluntary donations help fund a variety of our projects in the West Midlands. Donations also pay for equipment for our service users to enjoy and help families gain access to services in the community specifically for those with autism.

Download a fundraising pack now

With your support, Autism West Midlands can help people with autism to live as independently as possible, in both residential care and their own homes. We can provide activities and events to support families from sibling groups to stay and play sessions and parent support groups. Our Helpline is also a listening ear, providing support and advice to those who need it. The work that we do is possible because of the support from you.

For just £15.00 per year become a supporter of Autism West Midlands and you will receive the following;

– Online supporters welcome pack

– Digital supporters certificate

– Exclusive supporters web access to our very own digital Autism Matters magazine

In this section you can find out how to get involved with Autism West Midlands, including fundraising activities, volunteering opportunities, membership and events. More details here.