There is No “Glory” in Not Getting Enough Sleep
The documentary film, Sleepless in America, co-produced by the National Geographic Channel tells us that 40% of Americans are sleep deprived.
And that many get less than 5 hours of sleep per night, and that adolescents are among the most sleep deprived.
The consequences are dire, not just for the individual who is not getting enough rest, but for those around them too. While most people do not give lack of sleep much thought, there are life-threatening consequences.
Notably, “experts now believe that sleep deprivation may have played a role in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Staten Island ferry crash, and the Three-Mile Island nuclear meltdown,” the film states.
Countless people have also lost their lives to tired drivers who simply dozed off behind the wheel.
It’s important to realize that getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night leaves one cognitively impaired. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to health effects such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Depression and anxiety disorders are also adversely impacted by lack of sleep.
The Importance of Staying in Sync with Nature
Maintaining a natural rhythm of exposure to sunlight during the day and darkness at night is one crucial foundational component of sleeping well.
This was addressed in a previous interview with researcher Dan Pardi. In it, he explains how exposure to bright daylight serves as the major synchronizer of your master clock—a group of cells in your brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN).
These nuclei synchronize to the light-dark cycle of your environment when light enters the eye. We also have other biological clocks throughout your body that are synchronized to your master clock.
One reason why so many people get so little sleep, and/or such poor sleep, can be traced back to a master clock disruption. In short, most people spend their days indoors, shielded from bright daylight, and then spend their evenings in too-bright artificial light.
As a result, when body clocks get out of sync with the natural rhythm of daylight and nighttime darkness, and when that happens, restorative sleep becomes elusive.
An estimated 15-M Americans also work the night shift, and the adverse health effects of working nights are well documented. As just 1 example, 3 years of periodical night shift work can increase your risk for diabetes by 20%, and this risk continues to rise with time.
The Big Q: What happens when we are sleep deprived?
The Big A: What makes sleep deprivation so detrimental is that it does not just impact one aspect of our health… it impacts many. Among them are 5 major risks to your mental and physical well-being, they are as follows:
1. Reaction time slows: When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re not going to react as quickly as we normally would, making driving or other potentially dangerous activities, like using power tools, risky. One study even found that sleepiness behind the wheel was nearly as dangerous as drinking and driving.
2. Your cognition suffers both short and long-term: A single night of sleeping just 4 to 6 hours can impact our ability to think clearly the next day. In one animal study, sleep deprived mice lost 25% of the neurons located in their locus coeruleus, a nucleus in the brainstem associated with cognitive processes.
So, if you are sleep-deprived you will have trouble processing information and making decisions. This is why it is so important to get a good night’s sleep prior to important events at work or home.
For example, research discussed in the film found that diagnostic mistakes shot up by 400% among doctors who had worked for 24 consecutive hours.
Sleep deprived medical residents also reported a 73% increase in self-inflicted needle sticks and scalpel stabs, and when driving home from work, they had a 170% increased risk of having a serious motor vehicle accident.
Research also suggests that people with chronic sleep problems may develop Alzheimer’s disease sooner than those who sleep well. One of the reasons for this is because sleep is critical for brain detoxification, a process during which harmful proteins linked to Alzheimer’s are cleared out.
3. Memory and learning declines: The process of brain growth, or neuroplasticity, is believed to underlie the brain’s capacity to control behavior, including learning and memory. However, sleep and sleep loss modify the expression of several genes and gene products that may be important for synaptic plasticity.
Furthermore, certain forms of long-term potentiation, a neural process associated with the laying down of learning and memory can be elicited in sleep, suggesting synaptic connections are strengthened while we slumber.
4. Emotions are heightened: As your reaction time and cognition slows, your emotions will be kicked into high gear. This means that arguments with co-workers or your spouse are likely, and you’re probably going to be at fault for blowing things out of proportion.
The amygdala controls basic emotions like fear and anger. As discussed in the film, another area of the brain called the frontal cortex, plays a Key role in the regulation of emotions, and sleep is vital for its function.
When well rested, the brain’s frontal cortex is nicely connected to your amygdala, that deep emotional center, and works almost like “a break to your emotional gas pedal.”
Sleep deprivation causes a disconnect between these 2 brain centers, allowing your emotions to run amok. Sleep deprivation also plays an important role in mental illness, and tends to result in more adverse psychiatric outcomes.
5. Immune function and health deteriorates: Sleep deprivation has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress or illness, which may help explain why lack of sleep is tied to an increased risk of numerous chronic diseases.
For example, research shows that sleeping less than 6 hours per night more than 3X’s risk of high blood pressure, and women who get less than 4 hours of sleep per night 2X their chances of dying from heart disease.
The studies are clear and most experts agree, people seriously fooling themselves if they think they can do fine on less than 8 hours of sleep.
But 8 hours of sleep is not 8 hours in bed.
If you go to bed at 10:00p and get out of bed at 6:00a, you might say you have slept for 8 hours. In reality, you probably spent at least 15-30 mins falling asleep and may have woken during the night 1 or more times.
With the advent of fitness-tracking devices however, we now have access to actual sleep data and more from wristband users. The data is useful on a personal level and they help understand the need to start getting to bed 30mins earlier, in order to get a full 8 hours of sleep, try it, it works.
There is no Glory in not getting enougt sleep
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively