Why is sleep important? Why do we sleep? What are the benefits of sleep? Lack of sleep contributes to obesity, heart disease, traffic accidents, and more.
Good news: Americans are getting more sleep!
That was the conclusion of a survey of Americans age 15 and up from 2003 to 2016. People are going to bed earlier and fewer are watching TV or reading in bed, which tends to keep you up. It’s possible that because we can now do so many tasks online, we’re saving time and dedicating some of it to sleep.
That’s as it should be.
Why is sleep important?
When you’re short of sleep, you don’t just feel sluggish or irritable the next day. If it happens too often, you’re hurting your health. Even just being short of an hour or two for a few days in a row can affect you as if you’d been up all night, the National Institute of Health reports.
Adults need to sleep at least 7 hours a night — less than that increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, frequent mental distress, and all-cause mortality. But more than a third of American adults didn’t get that much regularly in 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, and as many as 12 percent say that they usually sleep fewer than five hours.
Sleepiness interferes with your body functions
When you sleep your body repairs heart and blood vessels — that’s why chronic lack of sleep contributes to higher risks of a long list of diseases.
Deep sleep triggers hormones that boost muscle mass, so you can stay strong.
Lack of sleep can make you more vulnerable to infections.
Are you concerned about your weight? Sleeping fewer than 6 hours a night is associated with a higher body mass index. If you’re trying to lose weight, it will help to sleep seven or more hours. Sleep allows us to regulate hunger properly. When you’re short of sleep, you feel hungrier, and you’re also likely to get less exercise, a bad combination. Your blood sugar levels may go up during the day, and tilt you towards diabetes.
Sleepiness interferes with your brain functioning
Do you need to learn new skills or information? During sleep our brains form new connections that allow you to preserve what you learn. When you’re sleep deprived, you don’t learn as well, and you may be more indecisive.
You might make mistakes or forget tasks. You also may have a harder time solving problems. We’ve all seen cranky overtired children. Overtired adults also have a harder time managing their emotions and behavior. After a bad night, you might eat too much or snap at your children.
Children and teens who are short on sleep may feel angry and impulsive, or swing into low moods. They may be inattentive and end up with lower grades.
Sleepiness causes accidents
Lack of sleep leads to “micro-sleeps,” mini-naps during the day that can lead to disaster if you’re driving, operating machinery, or watching over children or the sick.
Don’t assume that you can function on less sleep than other people do. It’s common for people to boast that they’re fine on 4 or 5 hours, or perhaps 6. They’re used to how they function, but actually they’d function better with more rest. On 5 hours of sleep, a driver might as well be a little drunk. And like someone who is drunk, sleepy people misjudge their abilities.
According to a study by the American Automobile Association (AAA), 9.5 percent of all crashes involve drowsy drivers. Researchers examined video of drivers’ faces in the 3 minutes leading up to a crash, noting when their eyes were closed. In an AAA survey, 29 percent of respondents admitted that in the previous month, they drove when they had a hard time keeping their eyes open. Other people don’t even realize they’re driving badly.
We have famous examples of how lack of sleep leads to industrial accidents. At the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, it was 4 a.m., when tired overnight shift workers failed to respond quickly and appropriately to a mechanical problem. The incident at Chernobyl took place at 1 a.m. Sleep loss may have been a factor in the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill, and the Space Shuttle Challenger accident as well.
August 14, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN