Lack of Sleep in Modern Times
With my goal of spending less time on my smartphone, I’m working on increasing my personal productivity. For me, personal productivity is how I complete and evaluate my goals to achieve my vision. Our lack of sleep has become a national issue, the CDC has called it a public health epidemic. This lack of sleep can cause a decrease in mental and physical abilities and who wants that?
The Science of Why We Sleep
The reason why we need sleep comes down to regulating chemical balance.
Our bodies work on a repeating 24-hour clock called a circadian rhythm. As we go through the day there is a change in the chemical balance resulting in fatigue and we eventually go to sleep.
This is because there’s a chemical called adenosine, it builds up during the day. As it builds up, we get tired. When we go to sleep, the chemical is broken down. (Side note: caffeine has a similar look as adenosine and blocks adenosine, keeping us awake. But this is for another post.)
Another process occurs between us and the environment. The amount of light that hits our eyes will influence when you get tired. In winter (northern hemisphere) we get fewer hours of daylight, so we get tired earlier in the day. This is because a chemical called melatonin increased when the light fades. It’s a signal for our bodies that it’s time to rest.
This is why sometimes I think it’ll be 11 PM and it’s only 8 PM. This is one reason why we shouldn’t look at smartphones before bed, the blue light from the screen tells us to wake up. This negatively impacts sleep quality. Phones and tablets have come out with red light tint for nighttime use; this may help sleep quality but more research needs to be done on this topic.
When we wake up, say due to amount to sunlight, our bodies release a chemical called cortisol. This helps us wake up but eventually decreases as adenosine increases. Creating a cycle of sleep and awake.
Why We Need Rest
Increases Mental Function
Sleep is important for concentration and focus as sleep has restorative effects on the mind. When we sleep out brains are “rewiring”, forming new patterns for the things we’ve learned and storing information.
This was a hard lesson I learned in Pharmacy School. Getting quality sleep was important to learning that volume of information in a short time. Sleep is important if you need to keep attention or make important decisions.
Increased Physical Health
We’ve all experienced the miserable feeling of not getting enough sleep. During sleep is when our bodies adjust hormones and heal tissues including the heart and blood vessels. Not getting enough sleep is linked to increasing rates of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
It also increases our chances of getting diabetes. Sleep affects how bodies reacts to insulin. Insulin controls blood sugar levels. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.
A consistent lack of sleep will effect the immune system too. Consistent sleep deficiency can change the way in which the immune system responds; making it harder for the body to fight infections.
I know when I’m sleep deficient, with enough experience being sleep deprived you know the signs: slow reaction, wandering thoughts, and lack of focus. Yet, a lot of people might not realize that they’re sleep deficient. Even with limited or poor-quality sleep, they may still think that they can function well.
I know my driving limitations and monitor my alertness when I’m driving a long time. Yet, studies show that sleep deficiency harms your driving ability as much as, or more than, being drunk. It’s estimated that driver sleepiness is a factor in about 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths.
Signs of Sleep Deficiency
Knowing the difference between being tired from a normal day and being sleep deficient can help us figure out the take steps to address it.
You might be sleep deficient if you often feel like you could doze off while:
- Sitting and reading or watching TV
- Sitting still in a public place, such as a movie theater, meeting, or classroom
- Riding in a car for an hour without stopping
- Talking to someone while you’re seated
- Sitting in traffic for a few minutes
So you think you have a sleep deficiency. There are non-medicated ways to improve sleep habits:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep–wake rhythm.
- Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
- Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (Having a light snack is okay.) Also, avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
- Avoid nicotine (for example, cigarettes) and caffeine (including caffeinated soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate). Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and both substances can interfere with sleep. The effects of caffeine can last as long as 8 hours. So, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.
- Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a dim night light is fine, if needed).
- Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.
I like to take breaks throughout the day to recharge my mind. Napping during the day may provide a boost in alertness and performance. However, if you have trouble falling asleep at night, limit naps or take them earlier in the afternoon and for no more than 20 minutes.
Talk to Your Health Care Provider
So you’ve done all the above and still think you have a sleep deficiency. It may be time to see your health care provider. Health care providers can diagnose some sleep disorders by asking questions about sleep schedules and habits and by getting information from sleep partners or parents. To diagnose other sleep disorders, doctors also use the results from sleep studies and other medical tests.
Sleep studies allow your doctor to measure how much and how well you sleep. They also help show whether you have sleep problems and how severe they are. I had a sleep study and I got almost no sleep but it did help me understand why I was tired all the time.
Sleep is important to our well being, it helps us to repair our bodies and revitalize the mind. It can also be a public safety issue when driving, being alert for your own level of sleepiness is important. It helps to see a health care provider if you think you’re not getting enough sleep. There could be an undiagnosed issue such as sleep apnea that can be treated. Try the sleep recommendations and see how it works for you.