Bills, childcare, hectic schedule, phone calls to make, text to return – life can be challenging, even on a good day! If you are like most people and trying to meet the demands of our overscheduled lifestyles, you might skip a few hours of sleep. No one is thinking that loss of an extra hour or two of sleep could be harmful. WRONG! Losing even a minimum amount of sleep reduces energy, alters mood, and diminishes our ability to handle stress.
Just as exercise and nutrition are essential for optimum health and happiness, so is sleep. Sleep is very much like eating. When you are hungry, you eat. When you are tired, you sleep. By eating, you are relieving hunger. By sleeping, you are relieving fatigue, as well as restoring optimal brain function. Equally important is the quality of your sleep. Interrupted sleep does not facilitate restorative sleep. Understanding the importance of sleep and why you need proper rest to maintain your lifestyle is the first step in adopting, maintaining, and prioritizing a healthy sleep schedule necessary to protect your overall health and well-being
The lack of quality, restorative sleep directly affects your life in a number of critical areas:
Most people don’t get enough sleep. We are a society that burns the candle at both ends, a nation where people stay up all night to study, work, or have fun. However, going without adequate sleep carries with it both short- and long-term consequences. Sleep deprivation induces significant reductions in performance and alertness. Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32 percent. Decreased alertness and excessive daytime sleepiness impair your memory and your cognitive ability—your ability to think and process information.
People who have good emotional health are aware of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They have learned healthy ways to cope with the stress and problems that are a normal part of life. They feel good about themselves and have healthy relationships. However, many things that happen in your life can disrupt your emotional health and lead to strong feelings of sadness, stress or anxiety. Your body responds to the way you think, feel and act. This is often called the “mind/body connection.” When you are stressed, anxious or upset, your body tries to tell you that something isn’t right. Poor emotional health can weaken your body’s immune system, making you more likely to get colds and other infections during emotionally difficult times. Also, when you are feeling stressed, anxious or upset, you may not take care of your health as well as you should. You may not feel like exercising, eating nutritious foods or taking medicine that your doctor prescribes. Abuse of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs may also be a sign of poor emotional health.
When you’re sleepy, you may forget and misplace things often. The inability to focus and concentrate caused by sleepiness further weakens memory. If you’re not able to concentrate on what’s at hand, it’s not going to make it into your short-term memory and then long-term memory. Sleep deprivation affects your ability to learn in two ways. Because you can’t focus as well, it’s more difficult to pick up information, so you can’t learn efficiently. It also affects memory, which is essential to learning. In children, sleepiness can lead to hyperactivity, also hampering learning. Young adults may lose the focus, diligence, and memory capacity to perform well in school. Sleepiness makes your reaction time slower, a special problem when driving or doing work or other tasks that require a quick response.
A good night’s sleep sets the optimal stage for, not only physical, but also mental performance. With respect to physical performance, rest and recovery is essential for best physical performance. If you are well rested you will approach social, professional, and physical challenges in the most advantageous state of mind and body. Certainly a positive attitude and confidence can be linked to physical performance, but the physiological and biological systems must be fully recovered in order to perform maximally. One good night of sleep, in itself, is not a performance enhancer, though it does contribute to both a good mental and physical base to help perform at your maximum level. After consecutive nights of good sleep, you can anticipate seeing sustained results in your physical performance. On the other hand, a poor night’s sleep — or consecutive nights of poor sleep — can negatively affect your performance.
Many of us think of creativity as making something new—like a new song, poem, painting, or novel. Creativity is certainly involved in making art. However, creativity is much more than that. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to work or solve problems in our daily lives. All people have the capacity to be creative. We can also nurture and increase our creativity. People are more likely to have a creative breakthrough if they are happy, as a result of getting a good night’s rest. Creativity is less likely to be present if one is sleep deprived, resulting in negative emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, and anxiety.
If you’re feeling sleepy at work, you may be tempted to reach for a cup of coffee (or several cups) and a doughnut for a quick shot of energy. Later you may skip the gym and pick up takeout on your way home to your family — no time to cook. When you finally find yourself back in your bed, you are too wound up to sleep. It’s a vicious cycle, and eventually this lack of sleep can sabotage your waistline and your health. It starts out innocently enough. When you have sleep deprivation and are running on low energy, you automatically go for a bag of potato chips or other comfort foods. The immediate result? You may be able to fight off sleepiness. The ultimate result? Unwanted pounds as poor food choices coupled with lack of exercise set the stage for obesity and further sleep loss. Sleep debt is like credit card debt, if you keep accumulating credit card debt, you will pay high interest rates, or your account will be shut down until you pay it all off. If you accumulate too much sleep debt, your body will crash.
While these examples might seem extreme to some of us and only apparent if you lose a full night’s sleep, the same problems can occur over time if you only sleep only a few hours a night, leading to sleep deprivation. As the number of hours of sleep decrease, the more your symptoms will increase and impact your daily life. Over time a lack of sleep can actually be fatal! For you sports fans, remember Reggie White? He died as a result of undiagnosed, obstructive sleep apnea.