What is sleep?
Sleep is an altered state of consciousness wherein there is
- decreased sensory awareness and responsiveness in cyclic stages
- varying degrees of paralysis
- altered but nonetheless active neuronal activity
- active metabolic activity in the brain
What does sleep do?
Sleep remains somewhat of a mystery. However, we can gain insight on the functions of sleep by describing what happens when it is lacking. Here are the results of sleep deprivation:
- mood - increased irritability and mood swings, decreased motivation, increased impulsivity
- performance - memory problems, decreased alertness, focus, cognitive performance, judgement and problem solving
- physical - decreased energy, poorer reaction time and hand eye coordination
- sensory - lower pain threshold, increased generalized pain
- health - lack of sleep in mice results in very early death and or development of generalized sores, in humans there is a weakening of the immune system and increased chances of getting sick. Sleep deprived persons are "more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality and reduced quality of life and productivity."
- Not so fun fact: Sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to lose weight for a variety of reasons. In sleep deprivation we produce excess stress hormones, including cortisol which promotes fat deposition. Plus we are more likely to overeat and skip workouts.
Reference (National Institute of Health): http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm#for_us
Read more ( Stanford Sleep and Dreams) : http://www.end-your-sleep-deprivation.com/effects-of-sleep-deprivation.html#ixzz3TOecw64M
"Some experts believe sleep gives neurons used while we are awake a chance to shut down and repair themselves. Without sleep, neurons may become so depleted in energy or so polluted with byproducts of normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction. Sleep also may give the brain a chance to exercise important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate from lack of activity." Sleep "may help encode memories and improve learning."
Reference (National Institue of Health): http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm#for_us
How big is the problem?
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) states that " Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic."
According to data from the National Health Interview Survey,
Nearly 30% of adults reported an average of ≤6 hours of sleep per day in 2005-2007 .3
In 2009, only 31% of high school students reported getting at least 8 hours of sleep on an average school night.4
A Gallup report indicated
Two in five (40 % of) Americans don't get the recommended seven or more hours of sleep a night.
How much sleep do we really need?
WebMD gave a great summary of sleep requirements:
The amount of sleep a person needs depends on many factors, including age. For example, in general:
- Infants require about 14-15 hours a day.
- Teenagers need about 8.5-9.5 hours on average.
- Most adults need 7 to 9 hours a night for the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 6 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day.
- Women in the first 3 months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual.
A personal point here:
It is easy to claim the need for only a few hours of sleep, since most of us can "beast" through whatever we really need to get done. But that is not the point. The point is, are you really taking the best care of yourself for the long haul? Are you really as productive, clear, kind, patient, flexible, healthy and resilient as you could be? Assessing your sleep habits requires hard core honesty. If you peter out in the afternoon, nod off in meetings, find yourself unaccountably irritable, or God forbid, feel drowsy when driving, you may well be sleep deprived.
Why are we sleep deprived?
- Poor health and sleep deprivation create a viscous cycle. Sleep deprivation leads to bad health and bad mental or physical health can make for sleep deprivation. It goes both ways.
- The CDC reports that "Sleep insufficiency may be caused by broad scale societal factors such as round-the-clock access to technology, (school and) work schedules, but sleep disorders such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea also play an important role.1
- You are probably aware that obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia are related to two of our most common health problems: obesity and smoking. And we are having epidemics of both.
- Between obesity, smoking, workaholism, and late night recreation such as media consumption, gaming, or drinking, it's no mystery why we have a national if not a global problem with sleep deprivation and the performance, personal and health problems it entails.
What should we do?
Here is a summary of a " listicle" from The Mayo Clinic on 7 ways to get good sleep.
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink
3. Create a bedtime ritual
4. Get comfortable
5. Limit daytime naps
6. Include physical activity in your daily routine
7. Manage stress
Click here to see the rest of this article.
Here are my own two cents:
1. Be realistic about your media consumption such as Netflix and Pinterest
2. Be realistic about your gaming and late night reading
3. Be realistic about going out
4. Plan your days and weeks to include family, work and the things you love like hobbies. Don't set yourself up to marginalize your fun hobbies until the middle of the night.
5. Don't be a workaholic
For more of my personal thoughts on this see this blog post.