Are You Sleep-deprived?

 By: Dr. Debbie Campbell
The recommended sleep time for adults is 7-8 hours a night. Most of us get far less sleep resulting in drowsiness at work and behind the wheel. We need to prioritize and consider a good night's sleep a necessity, not a luxury. However, only 26% of Americans get enough sleep and that's only a few nights a month!

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION?

At the extreme end of the continuum, existing without sleep for days and days (about 5-10 days), you can literally appear psychotic (including hallucinations, confusion, paranoia, and irrational thinking). Inadequate sleep negatively impacts our emotional health. We all know that when we do not get enough sleep, we feel on edge, raw, less able to cope with life's daily pressures and demands.

Inadequate sleep negatively impacts thinking (cognitive) abilities. We experience a reduced ability to concentrate and therefore a reduced ability to think critically, and a reduced ability to assimilate and analyze new information. Feelings of lethargy also result in decreased motivation. Any or all of these factors mean diminished productivity.

Inadequate sleep negatively impacts our own (and others') safety. When we drive drowsy, we greatly increase our risk of an accident. In fact, about 100,000 automobile accidents occur each year as a result of driving when drowsy according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates.

Inadequate sleep also affects our physical health. Even minimal sleep loss can have profound detrimental effects on the gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular functioning, and immune system functioning. Inadequate sleep will also negatively impact metabolism and make weight loss more difficult. Also, sleep deficit can contribute to a shorter life span. According to a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation, lower mortality rates were found in people who got an adequate amount of sleep at night vs. those who only slept six to seven hours a night.

WILL MORE THAN 8 HOURS OF SLEEP HELP ME OR HURT ME?

Interestingly enough, 10 hours of sleep is what has been defined as necessary for optimal performance. According to Dr. James B. Maas in his book, The Power of Sleep, before Thomas Edison's invention of the electric light in 1879, most people slept ten hours each night, coinciding with natural light cycles of darkness and light. Dr. Maas further cites a study (by Drs. Roehers and Roth at the Sleep Disorders Center in Detroit Michigan) where eight hour sleepers who claimed to be well-rested obtained an additional 2 hours of sleep. The researchers found that these subjects then had increased energy, vigilance, ability to process information, critical thinking skills, and creativity. Therefore, if you can get more than 8 hours of sleep, it likely will be of significant benefit to you. Of course, children and adolescents need much more sleep than adults, particularly as the growth hormone is only released in the deepest stages of sleep. Less of this growth hormone is released as we age, and older adults spend less time in deep sleep.

WHAT CAN I DO TO GET MORE SLEEP?

There are many things you can do to get more hours of sleep and a better quality night's sleep. Dr. Maas recommends that for sleep to be rejuvenating, you should get your required amount of sleep in one continuous block. If this is not possible, a 20-30 minute "power nap" in the afternoon can be very helpful and beneficial.

Here are some additional tips to getting a better night's sleep:

1. Establish a regular bedtime and waking up time (Yes, Even on Weekends! If you are trying to "catch up" on sleep, it is better to do so through going to bed earlier, and/or through a 20-30 minute power nap.)

2. Limit your consumption of caffeine (Yes you must, my Starbucks addicts!) and No caffeine for at least 4-6 hours before bedtime.

3. If you keep looking at the clock, stop doing that! It just upsets you. Turn the Clock away from you if you can't refrain from looking at it as you're waiting to fall asleep.

4. If your bed partner is a heavy snorer, you can utilize foam earplugs (Yes, you will still hear the children).

5. Avoid using alcohol late in the evening, and/or excessive drinking (You've heard of the "spike effect", excessive alcohol use will disturb your sleep).

6. Get some Exercise every day (vigorous or moderate), but do not exercise within 3 or 4 hours of bedtime.
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