by Cassie Byard Women’s Director at Veritas Life Adventures (This is part 1 of 2 blogs. Part 1 highlights the problem, part 2, the solution)
Maybe you’re not eating brains or covered in blood (I hope), but chances are good (and that’s bad) that you’re one of the 70% of Americans infected by a deadly epidemic. I’m not trying to be dramatic or anything, but most of us are basically walking dead. Okay, maybe that’s a tad bit dramatic, but seriously, we are being plagued by problem that is causing cancer, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, allergies, and depression. I think the worst thing about this affliction is that most of us think it’s no big deal, when reality says its repercussions are deadly.
It may not be an actual disease, but sleep deprivation is a legitimate health issue. It seems menial because most of us live with it every day and still function relatively well, but sleep deprivation is no small thing. According to social psychologist Dr. James Maas, nothing predicts longevity of life better than quality and quantity of sleep. He states that lack of sleep “…makes you clumsy, stupid, unhealthy… and it shortens your life.” Sleep is not a luxury available only to “time wealthy” people. Sleep is a necessity; not treating it as a top priority will bite you badder than a bitter bulldog.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Dr. Maas entitled “The Science of Sleep: Everything You Wanted to Know about Sleep But Were Too Tired to Ask.” As a self-proclaimed nerd, I found these few hours of facts quite fascinating, and as an advocate of holistic health, I feel I must share this information with you.
What is sleep deprivation?
A lot of people know they’re sleep deprived because they’re tired all the time. Others seem to function just fine in life and therefore think that their 5-6 hours of sleep at night is appropriate for them. But science shows that humans need between 7.5-9.5* hours of uninterrupted sleep each night for optimum health and performance. See how you fare in Dr. Maas’ sleep deprivation test:
- Does a heavy meal, low dose of alcohol, warm room, boring meeting or lecture ever make you drowsy?
- Do you fall asleep instantly at night?
- Do you need an alarm clock to wake up?
- Do you repeatedly hit the snooze button?
- Do you sleep extra hours on the weekends?
How’d you do? Did you answer yes to more than one of these? If so, you’re pathologically sleep deprived. Pretty crazy, right?
Teenagers, you guys need around 9.25 hours of sleep each night. Guess what teens are averaging these days? 6.1. Do you know that getting 6 or less hours of sleep per night for 2 or more weeks impairs you as much as being drunk? Yeah, a lot of us are driving drowsy, which is the same as drunk driving. I’d call that a problem. Know what else happens to your body on 6 or less hours of sleep? Your immunities drop 50%, your brain cannot function properly, and all the information you learned during the day gets forgotten.
While you sleep, your brain kicks into superhero mode, essentially putting new information (e.g., your athletic training, test studying, vocab building) into long-term storage. It is your sleeping brain that converts short-term memories into permanent knowledge (in other words, all those hours of studying for tests is virtually wasted if you do not sleep long enough for your brain to move it to the proper brain folders to keep it in your head for good). Not giving your brain enough time (9 ish hours) to run its diagnostics and back-up means you’re running on a faulty hard drive. Here are a “few” more results of sleep deprivation according to Dr. Maas:
Sleep deprivation is no good. Hopefully we get that now. But what’s to be done? With all we have going on during the day, we surely don’t have the time to sleep 9 hours each night, right? Yet when you get the proper amount of sleep, you are capable of so much more than you accomplish when you have a sleep debt. If you function well on 5-6 hours of sleep, you are still underperforming. You are capable of MORE! Zombieism is slowing you down. Don’t let it. Put that inner zombie to sleep. Literally.
* Everyone is different, but very few people (aka, you are probably not one of the very few) need less than the 7.5 hour minimum.