Getting a good night's sleep is one of the most critical aspects to professional and academic performance, health, and happiness. Unfortunately, many of us don't get enough sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, your work and school performance suffers, your health suffers, and your mood suffers; but when you get enough sleep, you can excel at work and school, enjoy increased health benefits, and find life more enjoyable.
This 3 part series details how sleep, or lack thereof, affects your daily life and how you can get a good night's sleep. Part 1 will focus on the importance of sleep, part 2 will cover reasons why you may not be getting quality sleep, and part 3 will show you what you can do to improve.
Lack of Sleep Creates Personal and Public Health Threats
Most Americans experience sleep-related issues at some point in their lives, and a lack of sleep can have disastrous effects. Consider the following statistics:
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 50 and 70 million American adults suffer from a sleep or wakeful disorder (Source)
• 62% of American adults experience a sleep problem a few nights every week (Source)
• The CDC states that 30% of adults average 6 hours of sleep or less per night (most adults need 8 hours of sleep per night) (Source)
• The estimated annual cost of sleep disorders to employers is $18 billion
Personal Threats Caused By Lack of Sleep
When you don't get enough sleep, you put yourself at risk for poor performance at work or school, health problems, and even depression. A CDC study found that adults aged 20 years or more reported the following sleep-related difficulties:
• Trouble concentrating (reported by 23.2%, or 49.2 million people)
• Memory issues (18.2%/38.8 million)
• Trouble working on hobbies (13.2%/28.2 million)
• Difficulty driving or taking public transportation (11.3%/24 million)
• Trouble with finances (10.5%/22.3 million)
• Work performance issues (8.6%/18.3 million)
Not getting enough sleep sets you up for failure and causes a number of undesirable effects:
Loss of motivation
When you lose sleep, you're tired and irritable. You have trouble concentrating, which means focusing on a given project becomes an arduous task. This makes it easy to slog through your routine or even simply give up, rather than put your best foot forward.
Lack of self-discipline and accountability
Fatigue can cause you to get lazy with your habits and goals, as it's far easier to give in to cravings than to fight them. Smoking, overeating, and other bad habits are hard to break when you suffer from sleep deprivation. Moreover, fatigue can cause you to fail to meet your commitments, resulting in a lack of accountability and the poor reputation associated with it.
A Swedish study measured the amounts of ghrelin, dubbed the “hunger hormone,” in men who slept the recommended 8 hours of sleep, then measured ghrelin levels again in the same men after a night of sleep deprivation. The researchers found that men had greater appetites and selected larger portions at breakfast after sleep deprivation than when they got enough sleep. What's more, the men also preferred greater snack size portions after breakfast. The researchers believe sleep deprivation might cause hunger in order to make up for the additional energy consumed by staying awake longer. They also hypothesized that lack of sleep increases the brain's reward system for high-calorie intake. What this means for you is that if you don't get enough sleep, you're naturally prone to overeating.
Poor work and school performance
The Sleep Foundation reports that sleep is directly associated with learning and memory functions. When you don't get enough sleep, your performance suffers; which puts you at high risk for getting a low score on the big exam or botching your big job interview.
The human circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle, is controlled by melatonin, a hormone released by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin levels peak during sleep, and are exceedingly low or non-existent during the day. Studies have linked melatonin to the aging process, suggesting that melatonin is an anti-aging agent. Melatonin is an antioxidant that delays the neurodegenerative and inflammatory processes related to aging. Thus, when you get enough sleep, you optimize your melatonin levels and theoretically age at a slower rate.
Your body needs ample sleep to maintain mental and physical health. Sleep is when your body repairs itself. The CDC reports that people who suffer from sleep deprivation have an increased likelihood for chronic diseases including hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, and cancer. Lack of sleep also leads to increased mortality and reduced quality of life.
Public Threats Caused by Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation not only puts you at risk for health and performance issues, it also makes you a risk to the general public. Motor vehicle accidents, industrial accidents, and medical and occupational errors have all been linked to poor sleep habits. In a study of nearly 75,000 adults who reported getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, the CDC found that:
• 37.9% unintentionally fell asleep during the day
• 4.7% fell asleep behind the wheel while driving – and that figure increased to 7.2% among adults aged 25 to 35
In addition, the National Department of Transportation estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for 40,000 non-fatal crashes in the United States every year – and 1,550 fatalities. More than 70,000 annual crash-related injuries and $12.5 billion in property loss and damage are also attributed to sleep deprivation. The statistics are even worse among people who drive for a living; for example, 47% of truck drivers report having fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once during their careers.
Public threats caused by sleep deprivation aren't limited to the roadways, either. Industrial accidents and medical errors, as well as other occupational errors, have been responsible for countless injuries, deaths, and financial losses. In fact, several of the most famous disasters in history were caused, at least in part, by sleep deprivation, including the 1979 Third Mile Island and 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown disasters.
Thus, it's important to understand that sleep deprivation doesn't just affect you; it poses serious risks to everyone around you.
In part 2 of this 3 part series we will explore what causes poor sleep.