You climb into bed. Darkness allows you to take a deep calming breath and the cool sheets embrace you as you lay down and finally place your head on the support of your pillow. Sleep is a beautiful thing, but more than 75% of people across the U.S. suffer from sleep difficulties, according to Harvard Health Publications. Chronic sleep deprivation affects your attitude, memory and overall biological health from your cardiovascular system to your immune system. Some people report being able to function on four to six hours of sleep, but according to the National Sleep Foundation at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night is the healthy average.
There are five necessary stages of sleep including REM (rapid eye movement). Most people experience three to five intervals of REM sleep per night. As we break down the statistics of age and sleep the numbers drastically spread apart. Infants spend roughly 50% of their time in REM sleep, whereas adults spend only 20% in REM sleep (American Sleep Association). The greatest concern in sleep deprivation is the toll its takes on the health and strength of your mind and body. Sleep loss can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, learning and memory issues and a decrease in immune health. Neuroimaging and neurochemistry suggests that a good night’s sleep promotes both mental and emotional resilience.
Sleep and Safety
Your safety and that of others is compromised when you haven’t gotten enough sleep, since you are more likely to fall asleep during the day. Think about sitting in traffic and doing whatever you can to keep your eyelids open. Even if you manage not to doze off at the wheel, an increase in car accidents and irresponsible driving is correlated with lack of sleep, since your reaction time is greatly decreased and ability to make split second decisions is jeopardized (Harvard Mental Health).
Sleep and Physical Health
Sleep disorders and chronic sleep deprivation can cause weight gain and affect your cardiovascular health. Without sleep, your body processes and stores carbohydrates differently, by altering levels of hormones that affect your appetite. Severe sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, an increase in stress hormones and poor heart health (“Coping with Excessive Sleepiness”). Your health is threatened when you deprive your body of its time to rest, strengthen itself and fight disease. Sleep is like nourishment for your body, which needs sleep to heal from the day and to fuel it up for a new one.
Sleep and Memory
Quality of sleep is important for memory and learning. I know you, the student who is a professional at cramming the night before or pulling an “all-nighter” before that exam. Those all-nighters may have helped you to pass the test in the short term, but in all actuality, the lack of sleep does not aid in memory retrieval. Sleep allows your brain to solidify information into memory through the process of memory consolidation. Without sleep, you have difficulty focusing and retrieving information and memories. If your sleep is cut short or disrupted, it interferes with the cycles of memory consolidation. Those who got a good night’s sleep after learning performed better on tests the following day (Harvard Health Publications).
Sleep, Mood and Mental Health
Sleep deprivation greatly affects your mood and temperament. With less sleep, you are more irritable, impatient and moody. In turn, this can negatively impact your relationships you’re your coworkers, friends and loved ones.
Chronic sleep deprivation can also put you at greater risk for depression. Researchers have found that it is not uncommon for people who don’t get enough sleep to also be depressed or struggle with other mental health concerns (Harvard Mental Health)
Additionally, people who are depressed tend to not sleep well enough, and studies show that people with depression who experience insomnia are less likely to respond to treatment for depression than those without sleep problems (Harvard Mental Health). Fortunately, people living with depression can combat sleep loss by using cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help change negative expectations and improve confidence in attaining a good night’s sleep.
Looking for more sleep tips? Check out the National Sleep Foundation’s #7Days4BetterSleep tips below and visit their website here!
Coping with Excessive Sleepiness. (April 30, 2013). Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/emotions-cognitive?page=3
Importance of Sleep. (January 1, 2006). Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance_of_sleep_and_health
Sleep and Mental Health. (July 1, 2009). Harvard Mental Health Letter. Retrieved from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Sleep-and-mental-health