Sleep Deprivation, It’s Worse Than You Think!
Let’s face it, in today’s sometimes hectic world, the super fast pace of events can be so breathtaking—a slew of never-ending emails to answer, incoming text messages that require immediate attention, phone calls marked URGENT, emergencies and other interruptions—that finding time to sleep can be quite a challenge.
In fact, if you’re like most people, you already know that you are not getting enough sleep. Or, at least not enough sleep to feel fully rested and energized the next day. But, did you know just how much a lack of sleep can impact your life? How not getting enough sleep can boomerang on you, negatively affecting your healthy well-being, your enjoyment of life, and possibly even shorten your life?
Did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), lack of sleep and sleep deprivation are now at crisis levels? Did you know that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration more than 1550 individuals are killed in car crashes each year due to sleepy or drowsy drivers and that driver fatigue due to lack of sleep causes over 100,000 preventable car crashes each and every year?
Additionally, surveys by the American Sleep Foundation report that 50% of all adult drivers admit to driving while drowsy, and 40% of drivers said they had fallen asleep at the wheel at least once.
Sleep research clearly shows that any time you get less than 7 hours sleep per night, you increase your risks of having a heart attack, stroke, arthritis, depression, obesity, and other health problems. The CDC also reports that 1/3rd of adults don’t get enough sleep and that over 2/3rds of high school students do not get the 8 hours of sleep per night they need. Unfortunately, this same report indicated that female high school students get even less sleep than their male counterparts.
Did you know that a 2014 study published in the Journal Sleep showed that when you miss just one night’s sleep, if your blood is drawn, results will show a loss of brain tissue and circulation of brain molecules usually found in your blood under conditions of brain damage? Did you know that during the postpartum period, when a mother gets less than 4 hours of sleep, it increases her risk for postpartum depression and startle reactivity?
Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
- aches and pains
- decreased accuracy
- decreased creativity
- decreased sex drive
- depressed mood
- difficulty concentrating
- easily distracted
- impaired moral judgment
- increased reaction time
- mind fog
- symptoms similar to ADHD
- yawning repeatedly throughout the day or night
Potential Bad Outcomes
- avoidable series of accidents
- avoidable series or arguments and conflicts
- avoidable series of mistakes
- brain damage
- falling asleep while driving
- falling asleep while operating heavy equipment
- increases potential for road rage incidents
- increases risk for addiction
- increases risk for Alzheimer’s disease
- increases risk for autoimmune disease
- increases risk for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- increases risk for dementia
- increases risk for unknown or “mystery” illnesses
- increases risk for stress burnout
- lower testosterone levels
- sign of undiagnosed sleep disorder
- weight gain
- weight loss
Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation happens whenever you do not get a healthy amount of sleep, resulting in a sleep deficit. But how much sleep do you really need? Some people in our society brag about how they need little or no sleep, considering sleep to be a “waste of time.”
Although some studies report that less than 1% of the population has a gene that allows them to “get by” on 5 hours of sleep per night, it may surprise you just how much sleep you need once you review this list from the National Sleep Foundation of required sleep durations:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours per day
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours per day
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours per day
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours per day
- School-aged children (6-13): 9-11 hours per day
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours per day
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours per day
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours per day
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours per day
Why is Getting Enough Sleep So Hard?
There are many reasons you may not be getting enough sleep but vying for top honors are the 24/7 nature of being tied to technology products such as our phones, computers, video games, and television, and increased hours spent working and commuting to and from work.
In fact, many workers now report receiving emails or texts from their mangers or bosses late at night, with the expectation that work product will be “ready in the morning.” These types of requests put you in a tough spot since if you don’t comply, most likely you’ll lose your job. But, this also means that you can build up a sleep deficit rapidly, even when you have been careful with your sleep routine in the past.
Even though new research demonstrates that multi-tasking is bad for you, many people continue to boast about how much they can get done on very little sleep. Others may not be getting enough sleep due to rotating shift work, family obligations or having their sleep continually interrupted to use the bathroom at night. Additionally, serious undiagnosed medical conditions such as depression, insomnia or sleep apnea can cause you to lose sleep.
A key aspect of getting the sleep you need each night is learning “how to relax and let go” of the tension in your body at the end of the day especially at bedtime. Even though you may be in bed, you may find it hard to fall asleep as you review the events of the day or your concerns and schedule for the next day.
Also, many surveys show that most Americans are worried about their finances—in other words, MONEY worries may be causing you to have sleepless nights. Of course, resolving your money issues is beyond the scope of this article, but fortunately, I can guide you to more information about how you can reduce and get rid of your bodily tension. You can learn more about how to relax throughout the day and at bedtime here.
How Lack of Sleep Damages your Brain
A recent animal study in the Journal of Neuroscience concluded that under conditions of chronic sleep deprivation the brain begins to “eat itself.” The study showed that sleep deprivation sends the brain’s immune system into overdrive, thus dramatically increasing risks for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Another study in the Journal Current Neuropharmacology cites the negative neurobiological consequences that occur when you are sleep deprived. For instance, sleep deprivation impairs your cognitive functions such as attention, learning acquisition, working memory and reference memory.
This study demonstrated that sleep deprivation has multiple negative consequences:
- promotes inflammation in your body
- increases your hypertension risk
- reduces brain plasticity
- disrupts your circadian rhythm
- interferes with REM sleep
- increases risk for depression
- increases risk for developing an anxiety disorder
Sleep Deprivation as Self Sabotage
Although you may know it is important to engage in self care and “put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others,” did you know that a sleep deficit spikes the release of the hormone cortisol? Thus, automatically boosting your stress and anxiety levels and throwing your immune system out of whack—all while making you look older!
Have you ever noticed that when you sleep less you tend to eat more? Well, Wilbur, that’s a “no brainer”….of course we eat MORE in the middle of the night! That of course depends on “whether we’re still up” late at night.
Unfortunately, staying up late makes it harder for you to stop eating and metabolize carbs and makes you hungrier. So, even if you’ve never thought of not getting enough sleep as a form of self sabotage, consider just how much lack of sleep is hurting you.
Can Lack of Sleep Kill You?
The research is mixed on whether being seriously sleep deprived can actually cause you to die or lose consciousness. Anecdotal evidence suggests that staying up for several days without sleep is probably not a good idea. For instance, there have been numerous cases where video game players died due to lack of sleep, and a lack of sleep due to working too much overtime, has proven to be a problem in Japan and other societies where workers have succumbed to burnout, resulting in death.
In fact, in Japan, there is even a term for overwork: Karoshi. Of course, Japan is not the only country where sleep deprivation is prevalent. Here in the USA, many people are working two or more jobs just to be able to “pay the rent.”
Additionally, with the new “Gig” economy, workers are no longer considered to be employees, so that means that if you don’t work, you don’t eat—even if you’re sick or it would ordinarily not be safe for you to work. As this New Yorker article points out, the Gig economy “celebrates your independence even if you are working while going into labor.”
In case you’re thinking that we Americans are working the most overtime and getting the least sleep in the world, take a look at just how large the sleep debt is worldwide in various countries.
Sleep research at Harvard Medical School has conclusively demonstrated that any short term gains you get from continually “burning the midnight oil” eventually is a losing proposition. Why?
Because the effects of lack of sleep depress your mood, decrease your ability to concentrate or pay attention, and impairs your decision-making ability. This means you make poorer choices than you otherwise would—when you are seriously sleep deprived, you perform worse than a person who is drunk.
A college student at Yale found out the hard why only getting 4 hours of sleep per night in a row was not a good idea. In fact, she ended up being embarrassed because she fell asleep in class right in front of her professor!
Here’s another article from the Wall Street Journal on how the workaholic CEO of Chrysler had planned to retire but worked himself to the death.
Ok, so I’m sure you get it: not getting enough sleep is a bad idea and can ruin you life, but who does it affect and how do you manage to get more sleep given life’s demands? An accumulated sleep deficit affects almost everyone.
If at this point, you still have doubts about whether it truly matters whether you get a good night’s sleep, consider this: even “tough guy” football coaches are insisting that their players get a minimum of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Why? Because, the data now shows clearly that those who get adequate sleep perform better on and off the field.
So, if football coaches are now using sleep as the “secret weapon” against opponents, then it would be smart for you to consider how getting more sleep helps you boost your performance and simultaneously improve the quality of your life.
Studies show that the only way to eliminate or reduce your sleep deficit is to change your attitude and behavior. Below are some practical tips for beginning to get your sleep groove on!
Stop Denial: You must first acknowledge that are not getting enough sleep. Then, you must “slow down” so that you can figure out what your next steps should be to reduce your sleep deficit. Of course, this takes emotional courage since it is an aspect of your life you may have been ignoring for the most part or saying “I’ll get more sleep….some day.”
Sleep Log: You need to become aware of just how much sleep you’re not getting. Keep an honest sleep log. You may be getting much less sleep than you think. And even though are in bed, are you falling asleep or looking at your phone or watching TV? Once you know the facts, then you can take action to increase the amount of sleep you get.
Pre-Sleep Rituals: Consider shutting down your computer at least an hour before bedtime. Studies show that the blue light from your computer delays the onset of sleep especially for men. Consider placing your phone outside of the bedroom to avoid disrupting your sleep cycle during the night. Consider showering and using aromatherapy scents such as jasmine and lavender. Studies show that these scents promote a good night’s sleep and increase alertness the next day.
Start Small: Once you are aware that you are not getting enough sleep, consider adding 15 minutes of sleep each night for a week, then another 15 minutes the following week until you feel better. Doing so allows you to get the sleep you need without drastically disrupting your schedule.
Create a Sleep Spa: Tailor your bedroom to increase your sleep comfort. Consider putting up black-out curtains to get rid of light that can keep you awake. Get a better pillow and mattress so that your spine naturally aligns comfortably with your bed. If your partner snores loudly, consider wearing ear plugs or sleeping in another room.
Perfect Temperature: Recent studies show that most people find it easier to fall asleep in a cool room rather than a warm one. The “sweet spot” sleep temperatures ranges between 65-70 degrees. Experiment until you get good results.
Release Bodily Tensions: Consider learning a “go to” stress management technique that helps you immediately clear stress and tension from your body. Consider working with an Open Focus coach who can show you how to easily achieve stress relief results.
You may be amazed at just how much tension has built up in your necks, shoulders, lower back and feet at the end of the day. In fact, if you think about it for a moment, if you wore high heels or other types of uncomfortable footwear, by nighttime, your feet would be literally “hurtin’ like the dickens!” If you really want to treat yourself, consider learning reflexology.
Seek Professional Help: If you still find it challenging to fall asleep, seek out the services of a sleep specialist or therapist who specializes in sleep disorders. Also, be sure to discuss your sleep issues with your doctor or medical practitioner so that you can be checked for an underlying medical disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea or depression.
When you commit to your own self care by making getting a good night’s sleep a priority, you may be startled to find just how much doing so improves the quality of your life—it’s a smart move you’ll be glad you made!
Dr. Bob is an author, speaker, and executive wellness coach and co-host of the popular StressFreeNow podcast series. You can learn more about how Dr. Bob can improve the quality of your life by visiting his website www.StressFreeNow.info.