It’s a mistake to believe that sleeping is not really all that important. We live increasingly busy lives, and it can be tempting to cut back our sleeping time to squeeze in ‘more’, but doing so could be counter-productive. By examining the effects of sleep deprivation, it becomes clear that sleeping well matters.
Like food and water, sleep is a basic need for all of us. Good sleeping habits enhance our lives and have considerable impact upon our general health and well-being.
In this article I will share my story and some of the recognised outcomes of sleep deprivation. Getting enough sleep is important not only for ourselves, but also impacts our family, co-workers and others.
Are you affected by lack of sleep?
Before being treated for a sleeping disorder, I was becoming increasingly frustrated by symptoms of anxiety and forgetfulness. A lot of the time I just felt exhausted. In the morning I more often than not got up feeling irritable, rather than refreshed or restored.
In addition, I didn’t understand why I felt this way. Having fun socialising, reading for pleasure or enjoying music, movies, etc fell by the wayside as
requiring too much effort. I seemed only able to muster enough energy to get through work.
On the odd occasion I did make it to the movies with friends, I inevitably fell asleep midway through. On one occasion I narrowly avoided catastrophe falling asleep at the wheel driving home one afternoon after visiting with my parents.
It is amazing what a difference improved sleeping patterns make, and I thank my husband for prodding me to get medical assistance with respect to my issues!
The outcome has been greatly increased energy reserves, with a big impact upon happiness levels. As a result of better sleep, I feel more confident navigating decisions and events that arise in life, and now have energy for things I previously felt too exhausted to consider.
That was my story, and it has had a profound effect on the value I place on a good night’s sleep!
Below are some of the recognised effects of sleep deprivation.
What is going on when we sleep?
Sleep is not simply a time where the body shuts down and there is nothing going on. There are complex processes taking place and it is suggested that a lot of the body’s restorative, repair, growth and memory consolidation occurs at this time. The body cycles four to six times through 5 distinct stages of sleep. Each cycle takes about 90 minutes and to awaken feeling refreshed it is important to get enough deep sleep within each cycle.
How much sleep do I need?
According to The Sleep Health Foundation, 2011, in Australia infants sleep on average 14-15 hours per day, and adults 7-9 hours per day. Individual needs can vary significantly, however, and the number of hours required will vary over our lifetime.
As discussed, not everyone requires the same amount of sleep.
Dr Michael Breus – The Sleep Doctor (search for him online) suggests experimenting over a week to identify exactly what you need. This then allows you to calculate your ideal bedtime to optimise the sleep you get. Most of us have a time when we need to rise, and it is simplest to work backwards from this. A suggested bedtime is 7.5 hours prior to your required wakeup point. If you wake up just before your alarm goes off, you have identified your ideal bedtime. If your alarm wakes you, try going to bed a bit earlier until you have found the ideal time. Your body loves routine, so try to provide this in your bed and wake-up time.
Our physical well-being is impacted by sleep….
Studies have shown that our immune systems work much better when we are well-rested.
In one experiment run through the University of Chicago, for example, a flu vaccine was provided to a well rested and a sleep-deprived group. The sleep deprived group contracted the flu at much higher rates than the group that was well-rested.
Sleep supports a healthy immune system, and lack of sleep will compromise this.
…and so is our emotional state!
We’ve almost all felt the impact of a terrible night’s sleep. It generally leaves us irritable, frustrated and moody – not in the best frame of mind for a day ahead.
Sleep has been shown to have a direct effect upon anxiety, and ongoing sleep deprivation is a contributing factor to depression. Clearly this is not good for either ourselves or anybody else we come in contact with!
What happens to our brain when we are sleep-deprived?
When we are not sufficiently rested, our brains do not function as well. We become more forgetful, and have greater difficulty making decisions. Our judgement is impaired, and the ability to concentrate is reduced.
Some studies have shown that there is a correlation between risk-taking behaviour and sleep – the more sleep deprived we are, the more prone we are to taking risks.
Like intoxication, sleep deprivation can lead to speech and motor function impairment.
Implications within the community
The Australian Transport Council reported in its National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 that a driver awake for 21 hours will have a similar driving ability to that of a driver with a BAC of 0.15. According to the Council, sleepiness is as much a contributor to the road toll as drink driving and speeding.
This is supported by traffic studies from the NSW Centre for Road Safety which advise motorists travelling between 10pm and dawn are four times more likely to have a fatal crash, indicating strong linkage to fatigue as being the likely cause.
In the workplace, productivity drops when workers are not well rested and absenteeism increases. With lack of sleep, energy levels are depleted and this impacts motivation and enthusiasm.
It is also more likely for accidents and oversights to occur when workers are tired.
Some major world catastrophes have occurred with workers suffering sleep deprivation. These include the Chernobyl nuclear disaster which killed hundreds of people and caused widespread radiation poisoning; the Challenger space shuttle explosion which killed all seven crew members, and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, spilling 258,000 barrels of crude oil into the ocean.
Although we may sometimes wish we had more hours in the day, to operate at our best it is not our sleep that should be compromised. Sleep rejuvenates us and provides us with physical, mental and emotional well-being.
It is in everyone’s best interests to support ourselves and our families in getting appropriate levels of rest and sleep.