You know that kid in school who always asked detailed questions about what was required for the assignment? They wanted the teacher to tell them the least they had to do to get a passing grade. They also wanted to know how much impact that test/quiz/assignment/book report/oral report/etc. would have on their grade, so they could blow it off if it was a small assignment.
Many times we have a similar attitude when it comes to sleep. How little sleep can I get by on and still have a decent day? How big a deal is it if I stay up all night before a big test? Does it really matter if I consistently get less than ideal sleep?
I think most of us are aware that when we suffer through a long sleepless night of tossing and turning that we will not feel too great the next day. There are immediate consequences. However, our attitude about these may be that these consequences are just minor, surface concerns – fatigue, irritability, sore muscles and joints, stomach distress. But how important are these? And are there other concerns that are more significant? Are there any long-term health problems related to poor sleep?
First of all, there are two kinds of sleep deprivation – complete, and partial.
Complete Sleep Deprivation
Complete sleep deprivation happens when you stay awake for longer than the standard sixteen or seventeen hours. Sometime in the twenty to twenty two hour range you are likely to feel exhausted. Simple tasks become a challenge. Hand-eye coordination can be as impaired as when intoxicated.
A few recent studies showed that driving while sleep-impaired, i.e. awake for more than twenty four hours, caused driving ability to be as bad or worse than when blood-alcohol levels were at .10.
Things get worse the longer a person stays awake. After two or three days people may experience microsleeps, a phenomenon where the person seems to be awake but may lose conscious awareness of their surroundings for a few seconds. Microsleeps can occur when a person is standing, talking, eating or driving. Some people may even experience hallucinations and paranoia, though these are extreme cases.
Longer term complete sleep deprivation can be fatal. Research conducted on rats in the 1980s found that after two weeks without sleep rats will die.
Partial Sleep Deprivation
Partial sleep deprivation is a much more common problem. It happens when you get some sleep, but not all the sleep you need. This is more commonly referred to as building up sleep debt.
The effects of partial sleep deprivation are minimal after one poor night of sleep. While you may feel a bit more tired and cranky, in general most people are capable of “bucking up” and getting through the day with minimal change in behavior or productivity.
After multiple nights of poor sleep, however, greater problems emerge. Bad moods, sleepiness, reduced work productivity, headaches, stomach pain, sore joints – these are the most common symptoms of partial sleep deprivation.
In some cases long-term sleep deprivation can go on for months or even years. This may be the result of insomnia or other sleep disorders, but is most frequently caused by the poor sleep habits of people who just don’t want to put the effort into getting healthy sleep.
Consequences of Partial Sleep Deprivation
The results of long-term poor sleep can be quite serious.
- In 1979 a study of nearly a million people over age thirty found that men who regularly slept less than four hours a night were three times more likely to die in the next six years than people who averaged seven or eight hours per night.
- In 1983, a San Diego Naval School of Health Sciences study found that those who sleep only five to seven hours performed worse on all performance measures than those who get more than seven hours of sleep.
- The 1983 study also found that poor sleepers receive fewer promotions during their careers, stayed at lower pay grades, received fewer recommendations for reenlistment, and were more likely to be hospitalized during their tour of duty.
- A 2004 study found that women sleeping five hours a night are 39% more likely to develop heart disease than women who sleep eight hours.
- A strong link has been found between obesity and poor sleep by many researchers.
Benefits of Good Sleep
Chronic poor sleepers who make the change to start getting proper sleep will notice a number of positive benefits:
- You will be more alert and enjoy better performance at all activities, especially those requiring a high degree of skill.
- You will have more vigor. You will enjoy challenges and embrace the day rather than procrastinating. You will enjoy delving into work and feel more fulfillment in your daily tasks.
- Memory and concentration will be improved
- You will have more creativity
- You will have better overall health. Sleep is one of the key pillars of good health. Short-term sleep deprivation makes us more susceptible to short-term illness. Long-term sleep deprivation significantly increases risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and shorter lifespans.
- Overall quality of life is improved. Not only will better sleep give you more life, but it will give you more out of life.
Those who believe that sleep gets in the way of success, that you have to be a four-five hour a night sleeper to get ahead have it backwards. A lifestyle that includes healthy sleep hygiene will “make a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
The first key to overcoming sleep deprivation is to begin practicing the best sleep tips. Achieving great sleep isn’t difficult, but may take some discipline on your part if you have developed some bad habits. But the rewards will make it all worth while.