sleepHere’s a familiar scenario—you feel overwhelmed by work and family responsibilities.  No matter what you do, you feel like you fall further and further behind.  Feeling anxious and stressed out, you start going to bed later and getting up earlier to try to get everything done.  But even this is not enough.  The anxiety starts to carry over into hours that you should be sleeping.  Instead of sleeping, you just lie in bed awake and stare at the ceiling for hours at a time.  Eventually, you become less and less productive as you become more and more tired all the time.  Your immune system starts to wear down and you lose valuable days to illness.  You realize you need to sleep more but you simply cannot.

Consequences of Lost Sleep
Many people struggle with lack of sleep.  However, they fail to realize the consequences of sleep deprivation or understand the consequences but are unable to fix the problem.  Adequate sleep is vital to productivity, memory and general good health, both physical and emotional.  When a person sacrifices sleep in an effort to get more done, they may feel like they are not getting anything done as lack of sleep results in decreased cognitive skills and decreased productivity.  Sleep deprivation can also have more serious consequences.

  • Studies show that people who do not sleep enough have a higher incidence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
  • Chronic pain increases with lack of sleep.
  • One study demonstrated that people who slept seven hours per night, instead of eight, were more likely to get sick.
  • Those who sleep less are more prone to accidents, whether driving, in the workplace or at home.

Benefits of Enough Sleep
The more you sleep, the better your mood, fitness, health (including cholesterol) and stress levels will be.  For example, sleep can help with weight loss.  People who are exhausted tend to have less energy for exercise and healthy meal preparation.   Sleep improves memory.  Some research has shown that when people sleep after learning something new, they will remember it better when tested on the new information.  We know that sleep has multiple stages, which are important for memory and learning new material.  Scientists think that both the REM stage (when a person is dreaming) and the slow-wave sleep stage (SWS) are important for building memory.  Finally, we know sleep improves mood and a person’s ability to think clearly.

Sleep Disorders
Some people suffer from physical ailments that affect their ability to sleep.  Apnea is one example.  This causes uneven breathing and snoring during sleep.  Sleep apnea sufferers often wake up feeling exhausted without knowing why.  Apnea can be deadly so it is important that a person get diagnosed and treated for it, if appropriate.  A CPAP machine or even surgery may be necessary.  Another possible sleep disorder is insomnia.  Chronic insomnia is defined as a person struggling to fall asleep at least three times per week for more than a month.  This may be treatable through a change in lifestyle or through deep-breathing techniques.  However, other people may need medication therapy for treatment.

Scientists do not understand exactly why people developed a need for a certain amount of sleep although there are a number of different theories.  However, it is certain that humans need sleep for their physical and emotional health.  If you are feeling run down and stressed, increasing your sleep could dramatically improve your quality of life.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Jackie Borst, PA-C