Sleep deprivation has become epidemic in the United States with dire effects on public safety and worker productivity. Bombarded on a daily basis with thousands of times more bits of information than any previous generation, pushed ever onward to do more, earn more, save more, own more, compete more–it is no wonder that as a nation we are chronically sleep starved.
Chronic sleep deprivation has many major health impacts. The chronically sleepless are prone to fatigue, irritability, loss of ability to concentrate, loss of hand eye coordination; they are more prone to depression, suicidal thoughts, and weight fluctuations both gain and loss but especially a tendency towards obesity. It is probably not coincidental that at the same time as obesity is being decried as an American health crisis and blame is placed on mere over eating and lack of exercise–that the American public is averaging less than five hours of sleep a night. A 2005 study revealed a direct connection between insufficient sleep and the development of type 2 diabetes. Other health impacts of chronic insomnia include increased blood pressure, higher stress hormone levels, and increased incidence of headaches.
Sleep deprivation is also believed to be a leading cause of motor vehicle and other accidental injuries and death–directly traceable to the impacts that a lack of meaningful rest has on concentration and neuro-muscular coordination. There is a direct correlation between sleeplessness and the time it takes to react to a dangerous situation.
Sleep deprivation Causes:
Shift work, especially rotating shifts where the hours of work and rest change periodically, are a known disruptor of sleep patterns. Professions where rotating shifts are common, including nursing, medicine, law enforcement, air traffic control, airplane/jet pilots, not only record some of the highest rates of fatigue related errors–all of which have dire potential impacts on public safety.
Travel across time zones. Frequent flyers who routinely cross more than one time zone more than once a month will find their circadian rhythms (the sleep-wake cycle) disrupted–a phenomenon it takes several days for the body to recover from each instance.
Social habits, specifically drinking alcohol before bedtime result in a higher incidence of insomnia. Alcohol is a recognized depressant and has long been believed to be a relaxing way to induce sleep–but the effect on the quality of sleep and its duration is quite the opposite. Even non alcoholic drinks–coffees, teas, sodas with high caffeine levels have a negative impact on the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Illness and pre-existing medical conditions. An illness as mild as the common cold can deprive the sufferer of what is most needed to recover—good quality sleep as the characteristic inability to breathe, body aches and pains all conspire to disrupt rest. Chronic conditions such as asthma interfere with the body’s ability to take in sufficient quantities of oxygen; known as sleep apnea–the immediate effect being jolted awake several times a night gasping for breath–results in a loss of meaningful rest.
The bottom line is that the human bodies require those precious hours of total relaxation to renew and repair themselves, sleep is not–as seems to be the modern philosophy–optional.
If you are sleep deprived, you know it, though you may be in denial. There are some very easy solutions to the problem however, which don’t require major lifestyle changes, merely some common sense adjustments.
Sleep Deprivation Avoidance
At minimum the human body requires between 6-7 hours nightly of good quality, REM cycle inducing sleep to maintain optimum health.
Control your sleep environment: You bedroom should be an oasis of peace and tranquility, which your body and mind associate with rest. It should be clear of as many distractions as possible, including computers, TVs, telephones and other electronic gadgets that tempt us to stay up past our bedtimes. Soft lighting, temperatures between 68 and 70 degrees (considered optimal for best rest) and quiet should be the hallmarks of the perfect bedroom environment.
Be Careful of what you eat and drink: whenever possible, alcohol, caffeine and spicy food should be avoided in the hours leading up to bedtime–a good rule of thumb is to stay away from these things after 6pm.
Avoid exercise right before bedtime: It seems counter intuitive that exercise -often considered the perfect way to burn off stress and relax–has the opposite effect on your ability to sleep and can actually add to sleep deprivation by keeping you awake. Strenuous aerobic exercise at bedtime instead fires up metabolic processes and hypes energy levels. Only low impact, soothing forms of activity should be engaged in during the hours leading to sleep. Meditative activities such as yoga or qigong breathing that encourage deeper respiration and a quieting of mental activity are preferable.
Avoid bringing work home: in today’s demanding job climate, there never seems to be enough hours in the work day to get done all that we need to. But bringing work home adds to fatigue, fosters distracted and restless sleep patterns and may contribute to job burnout. Try to leave the office behind as you head home at 5pm–if you must bring work home -keep it out of the bedroom and to the hours of the early evening.
If you’re a shift worker—especially with a job requiring rotating shifts–make sure that you have an uninterrupted period of sleep — that approximates the darkness and quiet of nighttime. If the option exists to control the time period over which rotating shift work is required, go for the schedule that will best ease you into altered sleep hours and which does not demand abrupt shifts in working hours every few weeks.
If you find yourself having significant trouble sleeping and see the symptoms of sleep deprivation—consult with your doctor. Some serious medical conditions have insomnia as a symptom and getting a clean bill of health is the first step in regaining the ability to get the rest you need.
Update: I realized after I finished this post that some of you may not be as motivated about the medical consequences of not sleeping enough but maybe I could reach you via your vanity. You see there are consequences to your looks that you probably never considered. Not getting enough sleep often times will carry with it a detriment to your looks so finding healthy ways to beauty will start with getting enough sleep. Your mind will be clearer and you will feel better and ultimately you will look better too.