By Caitlin Cuggy
I don’t know about you, but I have done some pretty funny things when I have not had enough sleep. One incident that comes to mind after a sleepless night was the time I put my purse in the fridge after grocery shopping. I looked for my purse for hours, returning to IGA in a panic, searching my car inside and out with no luck. After finally giving up my search and calling the bank to cancel my cards, I decided to have a tall glass of lemonade. I felt like I deserved a cool treat after the crazy day I had! I opened the fridge, and to my astonishment, I had placed my purse in the midst of the groceries I had purchased earlier in the day! I decided to ask friends and family whether they have done anything funny when they have not had enough sleep. Sure enough, everyone I spoke to had a funny story to confess: one friend spent hours searching for his sunglasses when they were on his head the whole time… another friend told me that they put both contact lenses in one eye… while yet another told me that she left the house wearing two different pairs of shoes, only to have a child point out her mistake on the city bus! It is clear that we do some pretty outrageous and unexpected things when we are tired. I recommend asking people what they have done with little sleep at your next dinner party…
I guarantee that an amusing conversation will ensue! While there is no doubt that we have all done some hilarious things while sleep deprived, it is important that we get enough quality sleep. After all, sleep has many implications for our reaction time, clarity, and focus in everything that we do - from work productivity to driving. As you will see in this article, getting an adequate amount of sleep does more than just improve your mood and eliminate the bags under your eyes. Getting enough sleep is one of the most effective (not to mention enjoyable) ways of enhancing your lifestyle, as adequate rest benefits your heart, your mind, and much more! How Sleep Affects Mental and Physical Health In a study conducted by the University of Chicago, researchers learned that sleep deprivation could have detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of undergraduate students. The researchers followed a group of students who were asked to sleep for four hours per night for six consecutive days. Compared to students who were sleeping seven to eight hours per night over the same time period, the sleep deprived students displayed higher blood pressure and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and they produced only half the usual number of antibodies to a flu vaccine (Repaying Your Sleep Debt, The Harvard Business Review, 2007). The sleep-deprived students also showed signs of insulin resistance — a condition that is the precursor of type 2 diabetes and metabolic slowdown. All the changes were reversed when the students made up the hours of sleep they had lost. According to the Harvard Business Review, the Chicago research helps to explain why chronic sleep deprivation raises the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
In a nutshell, sleep deprivation can lead to:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased levels of physiological stress
- Lowered immune resistance
- Memory loss: Studies demonstrate that sleep deprivation affects learning and working memory, which in turn affects job productivity. According to WebMd, sleep affects memory and learning in two ways: – Lack of sleep impairs a person's ability to focus and learn efficiently. – Sleep is necessary to optimize your memory so that information can be recalled in the future.
- Increased appetite: When we are sleep deprived, our bodies produce increased levels of the hormone ghrelin, which tells the brain that the body is hungry. This explains why we want to eat more when we do not get enough sleep.
- Thwarted hand-eye coordination when driving: Sleep-deprived people who are tested by using a driving simulator or by performing a hand-eye coordination task perform as badly as, or worse, than those who are intoxicated.
- Alcohol magnification: Sleep deprivation also magnifies the effects of alcohol on the body. A fatigued person who drinks will become much more impaired than someone who is well-rested.
Driver fatigue is responsible for numerous motor vehicle accidents and related deaths each year. How Much Sleep should You Be Getting? The amount of sleep that we need depends on a wide variety of factors, including age and gender. Experts suggest that adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per night in order to function effectively throughout the day. Counteracting Sleep Debt Sleep Debt: Not getting enough sleep creates a “sleep debt”, which is the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep on the body. As the sleep debt mounts, the health consequences increase, putting us at growing risk for weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and memory loss. Counteracting the Effects of Sleep Debt: Settle short-term debt. If you missed 10 hours of sleep over the course of a week, add three to four extra sleep hours on the weekend and an extra hour or two per night the following week until you have repaid the debt fully. Address a long-term debt. Plan a vacation with a light schedule and few obligations. Then, turn off the alarm clock and just sleep every night until you awake naturally. Avoid backsliding into a new debt cycle. Once you've determined how much sleep you really need, factor it into your daily schedule. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — at the very least, on weekdays.
Tips for Getting more Sleep Turn Off your Screens and Devices Staying up late on your smartphone or tablet can rob you of a good night’s rest. This is because the light that emanates from your devices supresses the body’s ability to produce melatonin. What is melatonin, exactly? Melatonin is a hormone that stabilizes the body’s internal clock. Essentially, it tells our brain that it is ready for bed. Without an adequate amount of melatonin, we stay awake longer than we should, which is why we feel so tired and drained after a long night on our brightly lit devices. While the ideal solution for a better night’s rest is to turn off your smartphones and tablets, adjusting the hue or brightness on your devices around bedtime could also do the trick. I suggest investing in an old fashioned alarm clock. Another solution is to download the Twilight app (for Android users) or Night Shift app (for Apple users) on your devices. Both applications dim your screens as your bedtime approaches, which facilitates the body’s ability to get a restful night’s sleep. Try Taking a Nap If sleeping for 7-9 hours seems impossible, try taking a nap during the day. If you try napping, make sure to keep it short (studies suggest that 10-30 minutes is adequate) so that you are still able to fall asleep at night. Studies suggest that napping before 4pm is ideal and will not interfere with your sleep cycle at night. Do Some Exercise The National Sleep Foundation suggests that exercising regularly improves the quality of sleep and increases total sleep time. Experts caution that you should not exercise right before going to bed, as your body and mind will struggle to unwind after a workout. Create the Ideal Sleep Environment Getting a good night’s rest begins by creating a peaceful sleep environment. Make sure that your sleep environment is quiet and dark with a comfortable room temperature.
One of the greatest adjustments I have made to my sleep environment has been to purchase an alarm clock so that I no longer have to rely on my iPhone to wake me up in the morning. This small investment has improved the quality of my sleep tremendously as I am not preoccupied by the limitless distractions on my iPhone when I am unable to sleep. Another addition to your improved sleep environment could be a humidifier, particularly if you have a partner who snores. In his ‘Be Well’ blog, Dr. Frank Lipman suggests that people tend to snore more if their sinuses and throats are dry. Having a humidifier in the bedroom creates a moist environment that alleviates these symptoms. Humidifiers have the added benefit of making the space warmer and more comfortable, which can encourage a good night’s sleep. Limit Caffeine Consumption Having a cup of coffee is a quick way to boost your energy. Coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant that makes us feel more alert. While caffeine allows us to feel more alert and energized, experts indicate that consuming large quantities of caffeine can lead to feelings of anxiety and over-stimulation. Studies suggest that consuming caffeine in moderation is best (i.e. about 2 cups of coffee per day). Furthermore, restricting caffeine consumption to the morning limits the stimulant’s affect on sleep at night. Establishing a Sleep/Wake Schedule Establish a bed and wake-time and stick to it, coming as close to it as you can on the weekend. A consistent sleep schedule will help you feel less tired since it allows your body to get in sync with its natural patterns. You will find that it’s easier to fall asleep at bedtime with this type of routine.
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