Flash forward a few years (ok, or a couple of decades) and, while I may be up until the wee hours, it is NOT because I’m drinking out of a Solo Cup at a band party. It’s because I just can’t sleep. Even more aggravating is the fact that no matter how tired I am, I still wake up at the same time every morning – and once awake, I can’t fall back asleep. What’s that all about??
While it might sound as if I could be a highly functioning, productive person during those hours of quiet with everyone else sleeping, the truth is, sometimes I might get up and get some work done, but mainly I just lie in bed and stew about NOT being able to sleep and try NOT to think about being tired the next day! (Although when I’m not stewing, I do get a lot of planning done, make up lots of exercise routines in my head and have many conversations while lying awake.)
All of this is to say we were created to sleep for a reason. We were wired to need rest. Our bodies and brains need to re-charge on a regular basis. It seems that our 24/7 society has really gotten people out of whack on this front and our bodies are paying the price. That’s why I wanted to share the 10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss. It seems fitting, too, as this time of year seems to bring out the “night owl” in all of us, even if just by necessity. (When else are you going to address those 250 Christmas cards?)
So, while we all know lack of sleep can make us grumpy or foggy (just ask my family), it can also do lots more.
Did you know that sleep deprivation was behind some of the largest disasters in history? Just think about the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. I also have some of my own disasters here on my own homefront that I will swear to my grave were caused by lack of sleep!
What is worse, though, is that sleep loss is a HUGE public safety hazard on the road. Drowsiness can slow reaction time as much as driving drunk.
2. Sleep Loss Dumbs You Down (hmmm, now I know what’s going on with my brain)
Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of sleep hurts the cognitive processes by impairing attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning and problem solving. Also, during the night, various sleep cycles play a role in “consolidating” memories in the mind. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to remember what you learned and experienced during the day. (Tell that to your kids when they are arguing about their bedtime on a school night).
3. Sleep Deprivation Can Lead to Serious Health Problems
Now, we get to the stuff I normally talk about:
Lack of sleep can put you at risk for:
• Heart disease
• Heart attack
• Heart failure
• Irregular heartbeat
• High blood pressure
According to some estimates, 90% of people with insomnia — a sleep disorder characterized by trouble falling and staying asleep — also have another health condition.
4. Sleepiness Is Depressing (Amen to that!)
In a 1997 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, people who slept less than five hours a night for seven nights felt stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. Over time, lack of sleep and sleep disorders can contribute to the symptoms of depression. In fact, insomnia is often one of the first symptoms of depression. Insomnia and depression feed on each other. Sleep loss often aggravates the symptoms of depression, and depression can make it more difficult to fall asleep. On the positive side, treating sleep problems can help depression and its symptoms, and vice versa.
6. Lack of Sleep Ages Your Skin
(This is really huge. It is the same as how stress can wreak havoc on your skin)
Most people have experienced sallow skin and puffy eyes after a few nights of missed sleep. But it turns out that chronic sleep loss can lead to lackluster skin, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes. (And my family just thought those circles were inherited from my Mom’s side of the family)
Seriously, this if what happens when you don’t get enough sleep – your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen. Skin collagen is the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. Sleep loss also causes the body to release too little human growth hormone. When we’re young, human growth hormone promotes growth. As we age, it helps increase muscle mass, thicken skin, and strengthen bones.
“It’s during deep sleep — what we call slow-wave sleep — that growth hormone is released,” says Phil Gehrman, PhD, CBSM, assistant professor of psychiatry and clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “It seems to be part of normal tissue repair — patching the wear and tear of the day.” (We always told our boys that they grow when they sleep – if you aren’t sleeping you aren’t growing. We weren’t too far off base.)
7. Sleepiness Makes You Forgetful
(Really? Think we know this one!)
In 2009, American and French researchers determined that brain events called “sharp wave ripples” are responsible for consolidating memory. The ripples also transfer learned information from the hippocampus to the neocortex of the brain, where long-term memories are stored. Sharp wave ripples occur mostly during the deepest levels of sleep.
8. Losing Sleep Can Make You Gain Weight
When it comes to body weight, it may be that if you snooze, you lose. Lack of sleep seems to be related to an increase in hunger and appetite, and possibly to obesity. According to a 2004 study, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30 percent more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours. Sleep loss appears to stimulate appetite AND it also stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. Ongoing studies are considering whether adequate sleep should be a standard part of weight loss programs.
9. Lack of Sleep May Increase Risk of Death
In the “Whitehall II Study,” British researchers looked at how sleep patterns affected the mortality of more than 10,000 British civil servants over two decades. The results, published in 2007, showed that those who had cut their sleep from seven to five hours or fewer a night nearly doubled their risk of death from all causes. In particular, lack of sleep doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
10. Sleep Loss Impairs Judgment, Especially About Sleep
Lack of sleep can affect our interpretation of events. This hurts our ability to make sound judgments because we may not assess situations accurately and act on them wisely. Sleep-deprived people seem to be especially prone to poor judgment when it comes to assessing what lack of sleep is doing to them. In this crazy fast-paced society, having less sleep seems to be something to be proud of. However, sleep specialists say if you think you’re doing fine on less sleep, you’re probably wrong. And if you work in a profession where it’s important to be able to judge your level of functioning, this can be a problem. “Studies show that over time, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, begin to feel that they’ve adapted to that sleep deprivation — they’ve gotten used to it,” “But if you look at how they actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill. So there’s a point in sleep deprivation when we lose touch with how impaired we are.”
If you are one of those lucky ones who drifts right off to sleep and actually stays asleep throughout the night, please know how blessed you are. Look at all of the things you don’t have to lose sleep worrying over! While others, like me, who find it more difficult to truly get a good night’s sleep, can just stay up even more worrying about how our lack of sleep is ruining our health!
This is truly one aspect of health that needs attention. So, let’s try to eat clean, exercise regularly, wear sunscreen and get some sleep . . . especially during this busy time of year!
Do you have any sleep hints? lf so, please share!
By Camille Peri
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD