Sleep well to be successful in life, career: researcher

A good night’s sleep is essential for health. Yet, with evenings devoted to entertainment and electronic gadgets keeping people awake longer, most of us continue with huge sleep deficits. Sleep researcher Henri Tuomilehto, who is currently visiting Dr. A. Ramachandran’s Diabetes Hospital, spoke about his research based on which the American Thoracic Association is drafting guidelines.

“When I started 15 years ago to research sleep it was by accident. I was an ENT specialist, I had been cutting people’s throats to treat sleep apnoea,” says Dr. Tuomilehto, who, after returning from a medical conference began noticing that his sleep apnoea patients were also obese. This led to a randomised study to link diabetes and sleep apnoea. The five-year study results released in 2009, the first of its kind, showed that by losing weight, sleep apnoea could be improved.

A senior committee member of the American Thoracic Society, Dr. Tuomilehto says, “Now, we are drafting global guidelines about the best ways for sleep apnoea patients to lose weight.” One of the first rules is sleeping well. According to him, only around 20% of the population has chronic sleep disorders. The rest are harming themselves. “You can do little things to promote your sleep. Now, people are doing nothing, thus endangering their health.”

He learnt from his own experience, he says. As a researcher he spent long night hours working. When he slept longer hours, he found his productivity increased. “It starts with respecting sleep. If you want to have a nice career and a nice life, it is important to sleep well. If you think you sleep seven hours, then you always lose half an hour to an hour during sleep. You could wake up in between or before the alarm goes off,” he says.

Harmful side effects

Sleep and diabetes are so closely associated that those who sleep very little are at greater risk for diabetes. “Patients come to my clinic because of sleep disorders. They are people who do many things right but do not benefit. Then, we talk about sleep disorders. Many patients, who come to my clinic have undiagnosed diabetes just as in India, many patients come with undiagnosed sleep apnoea,” the expert says.

The risk for diabetes increases when sleep is poor, Dr. Tuomilehto explains: “When you sleep little, a metabolic change begins even in healthy people. The feeling of hunger is increased and you crave carbohydrates. It is a hangover feeling; you need snacks and you eat more as your feeling of hunger is strong. So, the risk of obesity is increased as is the risk of diabetes. My study also showed that when people are not allowed to sleep, there is a change. There is a whole mess. Sleep is the conductor of metabolism. If you sleep well, it conducts well. If you don’t, terrible things happen in your body.”