How often does this happen to you: It’s late, you are looking for some much-earned downtime and you decide to binge-watch that show you’ve been putting off; or else your phone chirps signaling that incoming text message. Before you know it another night has gotten away from you and you cringe as you know that, yet again, you’ll not be hitting that magic ‘8 Hours A Night’ club for the umpteenth time.
You’re not alone.
Too often we find ourselves light on sleep and heavy on fatigue. As a society, we have never been busier, yet we feel like we can never catch up with our list of things to do. Be it being tethered to your smart phone, tablet, laptop or television (remember books? Yeah, me neither) the sacrifices we make to find a reason to stay up late will always be outweighed by the resultant consequences of not getting adequate rest.
Sleep is your body’s equivalent of hitting the reboot button. It allows for rest and digestion, as well as metabolic processes and reparative functions that are simply impossible without sleep. It is the equivalent of night-workers on the highway repairing the roads and bridges of distress in your body; so you never even have to think about hitting those potholes anymore.
Your brain, too, has communication pathways that that require neurotransmitter secretion and reuptake to allow for repair, cognitive function and the consolidation and integration of memories, just to name a few.
Some statistics that should alarm you are: * 90% of adult Americans own a cell phone. Of those, 58% are smart phone owners * 98% of Adults aged 18 – 29 are cell phone owners, 83% are smart phone owner * The percentage of cell phone owners use their phones to: * 81% – send / receive text messages * 60% – access the internet * 52% – send / receive emails * 50% – download apps * 49% – get directions, recommendations, or other location-based information * 48% – listen to music * 21% – participate in video call / video chat * 8% – ‘check in’ or share their location
Now, what about television?
- Data from 2011 – 2013 shows the number of hours spent weekly watching television includes:
- Aged 12 – 17 = 20:41 hrs/wk
- Aged 18 – 24 = 22:27 hrs/wk
- Aged 25 – 34 = 27:36 hrs/wk
- Aged 35 – 49 = 33:40 hrs/wk
- Aged 50 – 64 = 43:56 hrs/wk
- Aged 65+ = 50:34 hrs/wk
I could go on with statistics about work stress, lack of exercise, child-rearing, etc. but that would be cheating. That’s what the next section covers!
What follows are the six different aspects of health that are negatively impacted by a lack of adequate sleep.
1. Cognition, Learning and Memory
Sleep allows our brains to consolidate information, both current and past, allowing us to form, update, or in some cases reinforce our memories. Harvard publications in 2000 demonstrated people that slept after learning a task showed improvement on later testing. Creatively, when we sleep, we enhance our body’s ability to reorganize information, practice new skill sets and synthesize information easier.
Furthermore, with improper rest, our brains are unable to efficiently regulate our neurotransmitters that build up during out busy days. This interferes with our body’s ability to adequately normalize these levels during sleep, especially if that sleep is lacking. Lastly, sleep deprivation impairs many types of performance. This can reduce your ability to concentrate, slow reaction time, reduce your short and long term memory and affect motor skills. It can also lead to irritability, inability to cope with stressors and undermine job performance.
2. Metabolism and Weight
Research out of the journal Obesity illustrates strong correlations between insufficient sleep and weight gain among adolescents, adults and the elderly. To begin, there are two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which function as on-off switches with respect to appetite, but are also influenced through our sleep cycle. When these ratios are unbalanced, our bodies have difficulty balancing the energy storage / energy usage levels, affecting appetite and calorie storage, so we tend to eat more and put on weight.
Conceptually, when sleep deprived, we are awake longer, are more prone to fatigue and so our hunger increases. Further, people who are cognitively sluggish tend to favor sweet, unhealthy junk foods when working or studying when compared with those who were well-rested and who made smarter health food choices. Lastly, people who are tired are less likely to exercise, further adding to weight gain.
The concept of long working hours, shift work and sleep deprivation as well as ‘drowsy driving’ are all factors of sleep deprivation. Think of a time in your past where you were so tired, you nearly fell asleep at the wheel; or, worked a long shift and made a mistake? A sleep study compared day shift and night shift workers among nurses and found a 15% increase in night shift risks. Further, when comparing an 8-hour shift with a 10-hour shift, the risks went up by 13%; and from a 10 to 12-hour shift, the rates increased to 28%. For nurses working 3-consecutive days, there was a 17% increased risk; and by the fourth-consecutive day, there was a 36% risk. Think of all the missed diagnoses, potential fatalities and clerical errors that can occur? You may not be a nurse, but whatever your profession, can you accept being up to 36% at risk for making a mistake?
You may be able to skip out on a good night of sleep once in a while and still be alright. But when it becomes chronic, it can begin to lead towards depression, anxiety, ADHD, the inability to adequately react to emotional situations. In Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, fifty children aged 14 – 17 were subjected to sleep deprivation and evaluated based on a questionnaire. The sleep deprived group rated themselves as ‘significantly more tense / anxious, angry/hostile, confused, fatigued and less vigorous’. What may begin as a lack of sleep can quickly become a major family stressor where medication is being administered instead of rules for bedtime. So, if we as adults find it alright to monitor the sleep our children get, why do we not hold ourselves to the same standards?
5. Cardiovascular Health
If you have made it this far in the article, hopefully you’ve gotten something out of it by now. Not getting proper sleep sucks. It does. It affects you, and negatively impacts those around you. Sleep deprivation corresponds with poor health and health behaviors. It increases stress levels, and causes a release of pro-inflammatory markers to surge throughout our bodies. This can manifest as hypertension, irregular heart rhythm and affect circulation. Further, shifts in hormones can begin to cause metabolic changes leading to obesity, insulin resistance and reduced lipid tolerance. As we have mentioned, lack of sleep causes lowered motivation towards physical activity, tendencies towards poorer food choices and can cause dependencies on things like alcohol and cigarettes; not to mention the extra padding around your waist.
We’ve established that our bodies are like machines. They need food, but rest as well. At the cellular level, if we are sleep deprived, it carries over at the microscopic level to the rest of our inner workings and can begin to affect organ systems, lowering our natural immunity, increasing the risk of sickness and metabolic disorders, such as those briefly mentioned above. Through sleep deprivation, digestive complaints begin to arise (abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, appetite changes, heartburn and indigestion). From a fertility perspective, women thinking about becoming pregnant face greater challenges and may decrease their chances for becoming pregnant.
Don’t underestimate the trickle-down effect of sleep. From cognitive errors, to weight gain, to safety, mood alteration and your health – it is simply not worth it in the long run.
Remember, you can’t ‘catch up’ on lost sleep. Making sure you stay consistently consistent with a schedule or routine will be helpful. Adequate nutrition and exercise are all key factors that will aid in sleep quality and hopefully quantity. Finally, don’t underestimate the power-nap. If your occupation allows it, take 20 minutes for yourself. Set a timer, put your head down and experience an afternoon boost (save the coffee for the morning).
Baum, K.T., Desai, A., Field, J., Miller, L.E., Rausch, J. & Beebe, D.W. (2014). Sleep restriction worsens mood and emotion regulation in adolescents. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 55(2): 180 – 190.
Caruso, C.C. (2013). Negative impacts of shiftwork and long work hours. Rehabilitation Nursing. 39(1): 16 – 25.
Patel, S.R & Hu, F.B. (2007). Sort sleep duration and weight gain: a systematic review. Obesity. 16(3): 643 – 653.
Speigel, K., Tasali, E., Leproult, R., & Vn Cauter, E. (2009). Effects of poor and short sleep on glucose metabolism and obesity risk. Nature Reviews and Endocrinology. 5: 253 – 261.
Stickgold, R., James, L., & Hobson, J.A. (2000). Visual discrimination learning requires sleep after training. Nature Neuroscience. 3: 1237 – 1238.
Pew Research Internet Project – http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/09/19/cell-phone-activities-2013/
MC Marketing Charts – Are Young People Watching Less Television? –http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/television/are-young-people-watching-less-tv-24817/