Top of the morning to you, scouts! I hope you slept well. In the last post, I shared a bit about the causes for a poor night’s sleep. I moaned a bit, too. I’ve missed my zzzzzzzz’s.
We all know how it feels to meet a new morning with no sleep. We’ve all suspected at some point or another that our brains have been eaten, we’ve been zombified, and we’ll only get through the day by awkwardly, wearily, thrusting one foot in front of the other. We’ve all fallen asleep at our desks, too. (We have, haven’t we? Please tell me I’m not the only one…)
The the Sleep Foundation set out to assess how much sleep adults need in their, well, aptly titled report, “How Much Sleep Do Adults Need?,” and it appears the answer is complex: sleep researchers are still trying to uncover exactly why we need to sleep. The report acknowledges that the commonly held wisdom that adults need 7-8 hours of restful sleep each night is generally–but not universally–true. This aside, the report also notes that, regardless of our needs, fewer adults are getting a good night’s rest than in years past.
So what happens when we’re deprived of sleep? According to Web M.D., we can expect to experience any of these significant side effects in the short-term:
- Decreased Performance and Alertness. Even reducing one night’s sleep by as little as 90 minutes can reduce daytime alertness by as much as 32%.
- Memory and Cognitive Impairment. Yep. You won’t be able to remember where you put your keys, and when your husband tells you to look on the dresser, you’ll have a hard time picturing where that is in your house.
- Stressed Relationships: Disruption of a bed partner’s sleep due to a sleep disorder may cause significant problems for the relationship (for example, separate bedrooms, conflicts, moodiness, etc.).
- Poorer Quality of Life. Life, in fact, requires some sustained attention, but it’s really hard to stay awake for your child’s play when you’re exhausted and can’t think straight.
- Work-related Injury. Fatigue can double the likelihood of getting injured on the job. I guess I’m twice as likely to accidentally shut the laptop with my right hand while my left one is still typing.
- Automobile Injury. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities.”
The Sleep Foundation report included changes in physiology as a result of sleep deprivation–contributing factors to the side effects listed above:
Several research studies have shown that sleep restriction to about 4 hours per night on 1 – 2 nights has significant effects on normal individuals. Studies have shown an increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased inflammation… impaired glucose tolerance (which can be a prelude to the development of diabetes, and increased hunger/appetite (which could promote obesity). In addition, information obtained from questionnaires in large sample groups has also shown statistical associations between chronically reduced sleep duration and increased risk of hypertension (particularly in women); diabetes; and weight gain.
I read this and can’t help but think that as the country wages its latest war on obesity, we might need to be thinking about the sleep-weight connection. Hell, I know a lot of factors can contribute to weight gain, but I can’t help but notice that weight loss in middle age (read: I-haven’t-had-a-full-night’s-sleep-since-the-night-sweats-began), is a helluva lot harder than it used to be.
And, according to the Sleep Foundation, adults who experience sleep deprivation over time may begin to “…develop some tolerance to feelings of sleepiness over a few days, and this may make it more likely that sleep restricted people will be unaware of their continuing deterioration in alertness and performance. This can have profound personal and public safety consequences (e.g. safe motor vehicle operation, ability to make critical work and family decisions, etc).”
Yikes and double yikes. I need to check in with my husband to see if I’ve been making any particularly poor choices recently.
Curiously–at least to me–this report makes absolutely no mention of the possible value of my favorite three-letter word: nap.
I love, love, love a little nap at the end of a work day. It clears the mental slate and preps me for the evening ahead. Even twenty minutes can work small miracles. And my body’s natural inclination is supported by none other than the National Institutes of Health:
Evidence is mounting that sleep — even a nap — appears to enhance information processing and learning. New experiments by NIMH grantee Alan Hobson, M.D., Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., and colleagues at Harvard University show that a midday snooze reverses information overload and that a 20 percent overnight improvement in learning a motor skill is largely traceable to a late stage of sleep that some early risers might be missing. Overall, their studies suggest that the brain uses a night’s sleep to consolidate the memories of habits, actions and skills learned during the day.
The bottom line: we should stop feeling guilty about taking that “power nap” at work or catching those extra winks the night before our piano recital.
Hear that U.S.? Is it possible we could improve our endurance and productivity if we adopted the siesta?? Honestly, if I could figure out how to quantify increased productivity and profit this way, I might make it a personal mission to get nap time in every workplace.
But nap or not, most of us could still use some help getting a peaceful night’s sleep. So allow me to close with a few key pointers, again from the Sleep Foundation:
- Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekend
- Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music – begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep
- Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex (keep “sleep stealers” out of the bedroom – avoid watching TV, using a computer or reading in bed
- Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime
- Exercise regularly during the day or at least a few hours before bedtime
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime and give up smoking
Do you agree with the Sleep Foundation’s tips? Do you follow them? What helps you fall–and stay–asleep? Post your wisdom!!!!