“If you don’t get the sleep you need, you don’t restore and refresh your brain and body. You’re basically running on empty.... Sleep is the gas that fuels your brain”
Max Hirschkowitz of the American Board of Sleep Medicine
An average person can survive about 1-2 months without food, about 2-3 weeks without water, and about 10 days without sleep. A newborn may sleep as much as 18 hours a day. As they grow, children sleep shorter hours. An average adult requires between 7.5 hrs and 8.5 hrs of sleep each day. Getting this sleep keeps us at our healthiest and helps us live longer.
Researchers and healthcare practitioners from many parts of the world have been expressing concerns about the increase in insomniacs and sleep deprived people. Sleep disorders have been on the rise. We now sleep 20% less than people did 100 years ago. Increase in anxiety, stress, technology, social outlets – a number of causes have been said to cause such decrease in sleep. But is our sleep deprivation for real? Is it harming us?
What Sleep Deprivation Does to You
Is sleep all that important? What happens when you don’t get enough sleep? Most medical practitioners now agree that lack of sleep is a killer. In a sleep and mortality study, researchers concluded that people who were regularly sleep deprived consistently lost about 20% of their life years. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep each day increases your risks of a heart attack by over 50% in comparison to a person who gets a peaceful night’s sleep; getting just about or less than 6 hours increases risk by upto 70%. Women who regularly get to bed very late at night double up their risks of developing breast cancer.
While lack of sleep or sleep deprivation is not a direct cause of obesity, it certainly inhibits the loss of weight in adults. A mere one hour increase in the sleeping hours of a regularly sleep deprived person helps lose about 14.3lbs a year. Besides, with only six hours of sleep a day, your appetite goes up by almost 20% and you are likely to consume about 500 calories more than a regular diet. In a week, this is likely to translate into 1lb of increase in your weight. Sleep becomes increasingly important with age. For a person over the age of 45, a regular six hour sleep pattern could translate into an increase in the risk of having a stroke by four times. Regular lack of sleep damages a person’s physiology and psychology beyond measure.
Sleep Deprivation Across The World
Sleep researchers believe that people today sleep up to 20% less than they did a century ago. The number of people who can be said to be suffering from insomnia or sleeplessness across the world is now at about 30%. From what research findings reveal, sleeplessness increases with age. Worldwide over 40%-60% seniors over the age of 60 suffer from regular insomnia. Also, women are more prone to suffer from insomnia than men.
While in most cases stress or general anxiety is cited as a reason, researchers are trying to ascertain if sleeplessness has genetic implications. About 35% insomniacs claim to have a family history. Those who suffer from sleep apnea, insomnia and such sleep disorders are about 27% more likely to become overweight and obese. Almost 90% of all those suffering from depression across the world also suffer from chronic sleeplessness.
Work related anxiety and stress seems to be giving the world many sleepless nights. Around the world over 85% people claim to suffer from insomnia due to work anxiety. 78% workers across the globe do not sleep well on Sunday nights due an anxiety related to Monday morning work, researchers say. Daily over 23% workers in the world are unable to sleep due to high pressure jobs and stressed out lifestyles.
Studies show that short naps can be incredibly beneficial. A short 5 minute nap is quite enough to refresh you. Psychologists believe that a 20 minute siesta improves performance at workplaces and helps in increased alertness. Many organizations across the world have Nap Rooms and encourage their employees to take 20 minute Power Naps. Not only does a Power Nap help with long term memory and increased alertness, it also improves motor skills and responses. The best naps are taken between 1pm and 3 pm, researchers say.
Some famous people across the ages have been documented nappers –
Leonardo Da Vinci
Many international airlines believe that allowing pilots to take a 20-25 minute nap while the co-pilot takes control increases productivity by 34% and alertness by 54%. More and more organizations across the world are providing their employees Nap Rooms and napping facilities to help them attain optimum productivity levels. These include –
Procter & Gamble
A number of organizations are also offering their employees a range of benefit plans and often these include assistance with overcoming sleep disorders.
Sleepless In America
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports about 41 million Americans are regularly sleep deprived. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that about 50 million Americans are likely to suffer from sleep disorders at some point in their lives.
An average adult requires about eight hours of sleep to stay healthy. Studies reveal that an average American adult sleeps only about 6 hrs 55 minutes each day – well below the optimal levels. Each year Americans are deprived of over 393 hours of sleep. Over 66% of American adults complain of sleep deprivation and consequent restlessness. Less than 5 hours of sleep at night has the same effect on a person as a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08. In most states of the US, driving with a BAC level of .05 is likely to earn you a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) charge and at .08, a DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired) charge is levied. Driving while sleepy, sadly, goes uncharged. Two third American adults agree to have driven drowsy and a third even confess to have nodded off behind the wheel. 20% of all car accidents in the US are a result of sleep deprived driving. This adds up to a total of 1 million accidents each year.
The sleep industry in the US – pills, devices, aids, products including special mattresses and sleep consultants and medical centers – is now estimated to be a $32.4 billion business. Diagnosing and treating sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, the restless legs, the narcolepsy, and assisting people to sleep and live better has become a complete domain in US healthcare. Doctors, psychologists and other medical professionals are increasingly concerning themselves with good sleep and health. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has over 10,000 doctors, researchers, and health care professionals for its members.
Sleepy workers in the US cost their businesses approximately $136 billion each year by way of lost productivity, decreased workplace safety, and damages. 30% American workers confess to falling asleep at their desks. Experts believe that over 33% American children are not getting enough sleep and this leads up to health and behavioral concerns. Clearly the growth of sleep boutiques, sleep spas, and sleep specialty medical centers is an indicator of how the nation is sleep deprived.
Coffee is one of the commonest yet most-overlooked causes of insomnia. As the most common stimulant available, coffee is the world’s preferred aid to waking up and keeping awake. About 47% women and 40% men believe drinking coffee increases their productivity and hence make it an indispensable part of their workday. About 55% of US workers drink at least one cup of coffee and over half of the population of America consumes 3.1 cups of coffee each day. An average American worker spends about $1,000 a year on coffee alone. According to Nestle Coffee-mate’s survey conducted by Wakefield Research 55% of coffee drinkers would rather gain 10 pounds than give up coffee for life. And most of us are wondering why we can’t sleep normally as we nurse our cup of Joe.
Sleepless By Choice
In February 2012, Huffington Post ran a post which showcased the 10 most sleep-deprived careers. Let us take a guess on this one –
1 Home Health Aides
3 Police Officers
6 Social Workers
7 Computer Programmers
8 Financial Analysts
9 Plant Operators
The folks at HuffPost must have admittedly done their research but our own intra office poll went unanimous on ‘Mapmakers’.
With Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) having become the watchwords, workers in South East Asian countries and in other countries such as Philippines are increasingly forced to work at unusual hours and follow a clock different from their regular patterns. While insomnia and sleep disorders are regular outcomes of such a career choice, the fallouts of ignoring the natural body cycle are far more damaging.
264 Hours of Sleeplessness
Randy Gardner holds the Guinness Book record for the longest period a person has intentionally gone without sleep without the use of any stimulants. Gardner's 264 hours of sleeplessness was scientifically documented. In 1964 Gardner was a 17-year-old high school student and set the record in San Diego, California. Gardner succeeded in breaking the record held by Tom Rounds of Honolulu for staying awake 260 hours. Stanford sleep researcher, Dr. William C. Dement, closely monitored and recorded the attempt and Gardner’s responses became the material for sleep researchers across the world. Randy slept for fourteen hours at the end of his experiment but did not suffer any long term damages.
The experiment in sleeplessness carried out by the New York DJ, Peter Tripp, in 1959 created much sensation and spread awareness. Tripp set a world record that year by staying up for 201 hours without sleep. Tripp set up a glass booth in Times Square and spent most of his time there. By about the fourth day Tripp started to record extreme reactions and mood swings. Hallucinations and paranoid responses were recorded. Eventually Tripp recoded extreme psychosis. Tripp's family claimed that he underwent a personality change following the experiment and never fully recovered from it. Tripp was believed to have become moody and depressed ever since. He ended up with four divorces.
Guinness World Records no longer accepts or features records for voluntary sleep deprivation due to the extensive physiological and psychological damages suffered by the participants.
Five Simple Tips To Get Better Sleep
The following are a few simple tips suggested by researchers to sleep better.
Have a night time ritual. A warm bath and some light reading help. Doctors believe that there is wisdom in the bedtime practices we encourage in children. Soft instrumental music is also perfect to help you relax and fall asleep without counting sheep.
Exercise, run, walk, swim, play golf or tennis, and take the stairs – physical activity stimulates sleep, claim researchers. Physical activity produces hormones and chemicals that stimulate the nerves and help you relax and fall asleep quickly.
Eat right and at the right time. A heavy greasy meal just before bedtime maybe the perfect recipe for insomnia. Make the dinner a light meal and add as many fruits and vegetables as you like. Have your dinner at least two hours before bedtime and if you do get hungry later a warm glass of milk may be the perfect aid to falling asleep quickly.
Turn off your computers and other electronic devices about 45 minutes before bedtime. Screen light inhibits regular sleep patterns. Use your alarm clock to set the alarm and put your phone away. Bedtime calls claim about an hour of sleep each week claim most cell users, not to mention web surfing, social networking, and ‘catching up’ over the smartphone.
Use light – lots of natural light and the right kind of artificial light. Getting lots of natural light during the day gets the sleep mechanism working well at night. Cool color temperatures inhibit sleep patterns.
Sleep is often a matter of intention, say a few researchers while others say it is a matter of habit. Those who do not get to bed as they start to feel drowsy tend to keep find it difficult to sleep at a different hour. Considering the benefits of timely and adequate sleep, it seems well worth heeding the body’s routine.