The Ill Effects of Sleep Deprivation
It seems that poor sleep is an epidemic in America these days. One only needs to look at the pharmacy aisles or count the advertisements on TV to see that both are riddled with sleep aids. So many of us sleep poorly, which is caused by many factors, including staying up an extra hour or two to finish that work project, getting cozy under the covers only to have our mind kick into overdrive or bowing to the night time needs of children and pets. The problem for us is that sleep disruptions knock our circadian rhythms out of rhythm. When this happens, our health suffers.
Circadian rhythms help us fall asleep and wake up. But they are also critical for our mental and physical well-being. Chronic sleep, or circadian rhythm, disruptions can lead to anxiety disorders and mood swings. They can even be linked to the poor detoxification within the body, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study II (1989-2007) showed that women who worked rotating shifts for at least 20 years has a 44 percent increased risk for Type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t do shift work. It was an eye-opening study that linked sleep disruptions to preventable illnesses.
Our circadian rhythms are our internal body clocks. Yes, we have more than one. Interestingly, there is not just a single, main body clock, there are individual organ clocks that have their own circadian rhythm that keeps them running in tip top shape. However, when we don’t sleep well, or don’t sleep at the right times, our circadian rhythms are out of sync and we become unfocused, our memory suffers and our performance diminishes. This is important information for all of us who pulled all-nighters for college or work.
Here’s another interesting thing about sleep deprivation and the effects on our bodies and lives. Society has trained us to believe that performance, productivity, achievement and doing are worthy, valuable and expected of us. When we follow this, and most of us do, we trade sleep for production. The problem is, research has shown that being sleep deprived is similar to being drunk. In fact, one study found that when subjects went 17 to 19 hours without sleep, their response speeds were up to 50 percent slower than they would be if the subjects had a 0.05 percent blood-alcohol level. It would seem clear, then, that the best course of action if we really want that raise or promotion, is to go to bed by 10:30 p.m.
What We Value Needs to Change
In the dog-eat-dog world of American business, no matter what the business is, we generally celebrate long work hours, multi-tasking and getting as much done as we can in one day. Many people in the US don’t even take vacations each year. Why are we losing sleep over work? We are not healthy. We are not that happy. Perhaps what we value needs to change.
Instead of working as much as we can, make small changes to improve sleep quality and reduce stress. Promise to go to bed Sunday – Thursday at 10:30 p.m. Then, once you have made that a habit, promise to go on vacation twice a year for a week, and take the weekend before and the weekend after at the same time to extend your time away from work. Getting away from work will help us relax more often. This helps improve sleep quality. As we go to bed earlier, we create the habit of a good night’s sleep. There is an old saying, One hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight. That means we get more sleep benefit when we go to bed before midnight. Simple changes create a higher quality life for us.
For most of my adult life I considered myself a night owl. I wore that role proudly, staying up late to work, write, or organize the house. I used to tell people, “If I can make it past 10:30 p.m. when I seem to yawn, I can easily stay up until 2:00 a.m.”, as if this was a badge of honor and something to brag about. One day about five years ago it hit me like a ton of bricks after repeating my late-night mantra to a friend. If I’m yawning at 10:30 p.m., I must be tired and that must be my natural time to go to bed. So, I decided to honor that and go to bed at 10:30 p.m. I haven’t looked back. By going to bed earlier, I have more energy, feel more balanced and am more focused throughout the day.
Maybe we need to value rest and relaxation, honoring our body’s internal clocks instead of following trained programming that tells us work is more important. Maybe we need to value a good night’s sleep and its positive effects on our health. I know we can change anything we want to change. Every situation in our lives can be made easier, healthier, more connected, more peaceful and filled with more love than ever. The natural intelligence within each one of us—the circadian rhythms—can help us align with all of that on a regular basis if we are willing to honor it. It is time.
Ref: Bergeson, Laine, “Aligning Your Body’s Clocks is Key to Wellness: Here’s How to Achieve Optimum Circadian Rhythm Health and Get in Sync”, Experience Life, January/February 2017, 55-57.