Sleep Deprivation-The New Global PandemicReading Time: 8 minutes
Research conducted recently by top-notch experts and scientists has provided a solution to almost all human problems. They have argued and illustrated that all human problems stem from one area and there is only one solution. And the medication is free. You can now reduce your risk of getting cancer by half, reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, balance your blood sugar levels, avoid cardiovascular disease, heart failure, and stroke. You can even control psychiatric conditions like anxiety and depression. And the solution to all this is SLEEP!
If you think that was somewhat farfetched before you punch those buttons and consult your search engine, here are some more.
In countries like the USA, Japan, and the UK where sleep time has declined over the last couple of decades, the rates of mental disorders and physical diseases have increased. Moreover, in more developed countries like the USA, one person dies every hour due to an accident caused by body fatigue. Research has shown that you are 11.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident when you drive having slept for just four or fewer hours. As if this is not enough, car accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed the ones caused by drugs and alcohol combined. You can only imagine the tragic and fatal accidents caused by drivers who are both drunk and drowsy. Accidents caused by drunk drivers are less tragic than those caused by drowsy drivers. Drunk drivers will try to avert the accident but drowsy drivers will have shifted to sleep and hence wake up when it’s too late.
A study on adolescents has found a profound link between sleep deprivation and suicidal thoughts and attempts. When you are sleep deprived, every cell, tissue, organ, or system of your body is affected. Sleep has even been deemed more important than diet and exercise. Lack of adequate sleep has been found to have causal links with diseases such as obesity, dementia, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. You are at a 45% increased risk of developing and dying from coronary heart disease when you progressively deprive yourself of sleep. Moreover, you are 200 % more likely to have a stroke or a heart attack during your lifetime, if you progressively sleep for less than 6 hours as an adult. Sleeping fewer spikes your risk of hypertension and stress levels. Sleep deprivation makes one hungrier as less sleep interferes with the hormones responsible for giving responses to the brain when the stomach is empty or full. This results in eating more and eventually leads to weight gain and obesity.
Men sleeping less have lower levels of testosterone, they have a 29% lower sperm count, and even smaller testes than those who get enough sleep. In women, sleep deprivation leads to a 20% drop in a hormone that is responsible for conception called follicular. Moreover, women who experience inadequate sleep experience a 33% higher rate of irregular menstrual cycles. Sleep-deprived women are also more prone to reduced ability to get pregnant.
LET’S FACE IT
I know all these statistics and research studies are dumbfounding and overwhelming, but the facts remain unchanged. Sleep is more important than we think.
Before you start panicking and pressing the panic buttons you have to ask yourself two questions.
- Have I been getting enough sleep?
- How much sleep is enough sleep?
To answer the former, you have to remember how you have behaved in the last few weeks and do some sleep evaluation. If you have been going back to sleep before noon after you wake up or unable to survive without caffeine(coffee) until noon, then you are most probably not getting enough sleep.
To answer the latter, the recommended amount of sleep is 7-9 hours. However, it varies for different people due to reasons such as genes and geographical location. To determine your optimum sleep time, do this. For a whole week, note the time when you go to sleep and wake up naturally without being woken up by external factors like the alarm clock. Do this for a whole week and note the average amount of time you sleep after waking up having had enough sleep. That becomes your optimum sleep time.
WHERE WE LOST THE SLEEP BATTLE
Over the years, as countries have continuously developed and industrialization has taken center stage, the human race has progressively undervalued the value of sleep. Sleep appears as one of the most useless ways to spend your time. Some people even categorize sleep as a waste of time. You could be making money instead of sleeping, revising for that exam, watching that blockbuster movie, or that soccer final match pitting your favorite team. You could be mating and reproducing, you could be traveling the world. Sleep looks useless on the surface but invaluable as you look more profoundly. Others have downplayed the amount of sleep needed for optimum productivity
WHERE WE ARE ALL GETTING THE PINCH OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
- IN SCHOOLS
School is one of those places where the value of sleep is least recognized. Students who wake up early and sleep late are praised by teachers and even devoured by their peers. They are blindly associated with hard work which pays them off with good grades. Everyone has to be made into a morning lark. Night owls have to wake up early like morning larks. Teachers deprive students of sleep time with their early morning and late-night schedules and then punish them when they get them sleeping during lessons and preps.
However, scientific research and studies have shown that students who sleep more have higher levels of intelligence. A fatigued and sleep-deprived brain is like a sieve that leaks all the knowledge it absorbs.
Moreover, the brain’s capacity for learning and making new memories is restored by sleep. Sleep offers a memory retention benefit of 20-40%. Even when learning a new skill such as playing the piano or cycling a bicycle, it is sleep that consolidates the skill into your brain. Sleep also aids in improved creativity as it helps the brain establish links between broad information stores.
2. IN THE WORKPLACES
In workplaces, employees who get to work early and leave late are praised by their managers. People are mistakenly associating sleep deprivation with high levels of success. As an employee, sleep deprivation hampers your productivity. Having sleep-deprived nurses and doctors is the one nightmare the world is yet to wake up from. Sleep-deprived medics are 36% more likely to make medical errors such as wrong medical prescriptions or leaving a surgical tool inside a patient’s body. One in every five medics will make an error caused by sleep deprivation that will hugely harm the patient. One in every twenty doctors will kill a patient as a result of sleep deprivation. A surgeon who has not had at least 6 hours of sleep the night before a major surgery has a 170% risk of inflicting a serious surgical error on a patient.
Through this, am not asking you to question ask how many hours of sleep your doctor had the night before administering treatment to you, but you can see the dangers of sleep deprivation in the workplaces.
WHERE SOME ARE GETTING IT RIGHT
Even though everyone seems to downplay the importance of enough sleep time, some companies have long realized the magical advantages of enough sleep and are using this to their advantage. For example, if you work for Aetna, the giant Insurance Company, you will receive a twenty –five dollar- per night bonus for stringing together twenty-seven- hour nights of sleep or more in a row. Other companies like Google and organizations like NASA are utilizing the power of naps to enhance workers’ productivity. They have improved task performance by 34% and the overall alertness of their workers by about 50% by allowing their workers to take naps as short as twenty-six minutes. NASA for example, they have incorporated the so-called NASA nap culture in their employees’ system. While the old and conventional corporations are firing or penalizing employees who are caught sleeping on duty, modern corporates have realized the detrimental effects of deprived sleep on the productivity of employees. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation cuts every country’s GDP by 2%.
Just to emphasize how serious sleep deprivation has become, the World Health Organization has labeled sleep deprivation as a global health epidemic. Even the Guinness World Book of Record stopped recognizing any attempts to break the world record for sleep deprivation as early as in the 1980s. They have even erased records when they realized the deadly effects brought by sleep deprivation.
DEBUNKING THE MYTHS ABOUT SLEEP
One of the oldest and most conventional stories about sleep is that you need 8 hours of sleep. This is however true and false at the same time. The recommended sleep time lies somewhere between 7-9 hours. This comes to somewhere close to 8hrs. However, some individuals will be okay with slightly less than seven hours of sleep and others will need more than eight hours of sleep. Factors such as genes and geographical location account for the small differences. Despite those slight differences though, V-E-R-Y few people can do with less than six hours of sleep.
SLEEPING PILLS DON’T IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP, THEY MAKE IT WORSE
No medication has been so far proven to induce natural sleep. When you take sleeping pills to improve your quality of sleep, your body ends up depending on the artificial inducers and not the natural inducers of sleep. After the medication ceases, your sleep quality worsens as your body struggles to cope without the artificial sleep inducers. Go for therapy over pills to cure sleep-related problems.
“I WILL RECOVER SLEEP LOST ON WEEKDAYS BY OVERSLEEPING ON WEEKENDS”
This is one of the most famous FALSE theories told by students or employees on sleep. Increasingly, people are trying to pay the sleep debt accrued over the week by oversleeping on weekends. However, the brain cannot recover all the sleep that it has been deprived of. It does not operate as a credit card or a bank.
Caffeine impairs the ability of the hormone adenosine. This is the hormone that induces the desire to sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of five to seven hours. Therefore, it would take the liver five to seven hours to remove caffeine from your body. Taking coffee or any other substance with caffeine in the evening more so after the afternoon hours leads to the impairment of the hormone adenosine hence impairing your desire to sleep. The solution is to avoid taking any caffeine product after lunchtime to give the liver enough time to get rid of all the caffeine in the body
Alcohol is a suppressor of REM sleep (deep sleep often experienced in the initial hours of sleep time). Alcohol produces chemicals that block the ability of the brain to generate REM sleep. Majority of the people take alcohol at night hence their sleep is affected as it takes the liver and kidney many hours before it can completely get rid of the alcohol components in your body,
3. THE ALARM CLOCK
The alarm clock artificially terminates sleep which may lend your heart a shock acceleration or even raise your blood pressure. Considering that alarming your heart quite often is already bad enough, the snooze button brings dyer repercussions. It repeatedly spikes the cardiovascular assault within a short period exposing your heart and nervous system to serious problems soon.
4. MODERN BLUE/LED LIGHT
It is now common that most people check their phones the last thing before they sleep and the first thing when they wake up. People will delay their sleep time while watching movies or their favorite games. These screens however produce blue light that suppresses the sleep-causing hormone called melatonin. In simpler terms, the blue light tricks your brain to think that it’s still daytime and hence delays the release of sleep causing hormone-melatonin.
It is therefore recommended that you avoid using your electronic gadgets at least one hour before sleep time.
HOW TO SLEEP BETTER
- Try going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day. Adjusting your sleep pattern on the weekends ends up interfering with your sleep cycle.
- Avoid coffee or nicotine after lunchtime.
- Exercise improves sleep. As you may have experienced, you enjoy a good night’s deep sleep after a good body exercise.
- Avoid taking alcohol before sleep time.
- Take light meals and little or no drinks at night. Heavy meals lead to ingestion which impairs sleep and drinks lead to frequent urination breaks which disrupt the sleep pattern
- Although naps increase your concentration and overall alertness, avoid naps after 3 pm as they may interfere with your nighttime sleep.
- Take warm/hot showers in the evening. Hot showers will lower your body temperature due to reduced metabolic rates. A slight decrease in body temperatures induces sleep.
- Avoid using your gadgets one hour before sleep. Switch off your bedroom lights when preparing for sleep.
Sleep is that unsung hero that holds and strings our physical and mental health without our realization. It is like that important player who everybody takes for granted when he is on the pitch but acknowledges his impact when he is not on the pitch.
Almost everything we do in our lives is affected by the quality of sleep we get. Sleep affects our health, relationships, finances, and all other aspects of our lives. Sleeping a third of the day should be the foundation of having a good day.
Increasing the amount of sleep time by around 30 minutes has significant health impacts. Stop debating on how little sleep you should have and work on increasing your sleep time.
Sleep deprivation for one day may not cause f=detrimental health issues the next day. This may make the benefits of enough sleep hard to realize. However, when you accumulate that one day into three days a week, and seven days a month, the repercussions exponentially become dyer.
However, this should not be a call for oversleeping. Sleep is beneficial when you have only had enough of it. Having more or less of it has negative effects.
Make sure you get enough sleep tonight, this week, this month, this year, and your health and life will be way much better.
FOOTNOTES AND REFERENCES
- Why we sleep by Matthew Walker, PHD