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When one has too many tasks to accomplish within a limited time, it’s usual to sleep for fewer hours. Skipping an hour of sleep or two to get more work done sounds like an acceptable trade-off, but have you ever thought what the results of not getting enough sleep are?
Sleeping for fewer hours than its recommended has adverse effects on your concentration, energy, stress management, and your general mood. It has been shown that sleep deprivation is a major cause of obesity, depression, cardio-vascular diseases, and Type 2 diabetes.
The Importance of Adequate Sleep
Sleep is not equivalent to a system shutdown. When you are asleep, a section of your brain remains active, performing many biological maintenance checks that keep your body running at optimum conditions. Skipping sleep is more like skipping your body’s maintenance services; it’s the surest path to a mechanical breakdown.
Without enough hours of quality sleep, you can’t work, communicate, create, or learn at a level close to your true potential. In addition, the quality and quantity of sleep you get at night directly affects the following aspects of your waking life:
1. Your physical strength and vitality throughout the day.
2. Your emotional balance.
3. Your productivity.
4. Your mental sharpness and creativity, and
5. Your ability to learn and create ideas.
How Many Hours of Sleep Should You Aim For?
The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that most adults sleep for 6-7 hours per day. In our busy world, 7 hours of sleep looks really good but 6-7 hours of sleep is not enough to keep you healthy. In fact, if you increase your sleeping hours to eight or nine hours per night, you will be surprised by how much your performance will improve.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following hours of sleep for individuals of various ages :
Age Group Hours of Sleep
Newborn: 0 - 3 months; 14 - 17 hours
Infant: 4 - 11 months; 12 - 15 hours
Toddler: 1 - 2 years; 11 - 14 hours
Pre-school: 3 - 5 years; 10 - 13 hours
School age: 6 - 13 years; 9 - 11 hours
Teen: 14 - 17 years; 8 - 10 hours
Young Adult: 18 - 25 years; 7 - 9 hours
Adult: 26 - 64 years; 7 - 9 hours
Older Adult: 65+ years; 7 - 8 hours
The number of sleep hours one requires to function optimally decreases with age. Healthy adults require 7 to 9 hours. Younger people need more sleep since their bodies are still developing. Indeed the aged may not be able to sleep for long hours, therefore, they can compensate for their deficit in night sleep by taking daytime naps. To tell if you are having enough sleep, evaluate how you feel from the time you wake up till bedtime. If you get enough sleep, you should stay alert and energetic all the time, unless you are suffering from other health problems.
According to a survey conducted by Monash University, which sampled 720 females and 320 males, Australians say they lacked sleep due to numerous factors including: noise, thoughts on the mind, toilet breaks, aches and pains, partner disturbance, and children.
Facts and Fallacies Related to Sleeping
1. Skipping an hour of sleep won’t impact your daytime mood and functionality
Maybe you won't be noticeably drowsy during the day, but your thinking and ability to work will definitely suffer a blow. An hour less of sleep also lowers your body’s immunity, cardiovascular health, and ability to combat infections. Also, it distorts your energy balance.
2. Extra sleeping hours solves excessive fatigue
This is not always the case. The quality and quantity of sleep both matters. Some people sleep for 8-9 hours, but still feel restless during the day. This is because although they get enough hours of sleep, the quality of sleep they get is lowered by factors such as noise in their room, light, condition of their mattress, and or other diet and environmental issues.
3. Your body can adjust to different sleeping schedules swiftly
True, some people can change their sleep cycle, but only by 1 or 2 hours at a time. Therefore, you might need several days to changes, such as when you travel to a different time zone.
4. You can compensate your weekday sleeping debt by sleeping extra hours over the weekend
This is partly right, but it can distort your sleep-wake cycle resulting in trouble sleeping on Sunday nights and waking up on Monday mornings.
Signs of Sleep Deprivation
It is possible to suffer from sleep deprivation unknowingly and more so if you have formed a habit of sleeping for a few hours. Also, it’s common to hear people bragging about how they sleep late in the night and wake up early every morning without problems. Such people may have totally forgotten how it is to be wide awake and fully alert.
Here are some indicators that you are a victim of inadequate sleep.
• You cannot wake up on time without using an alarm
• You don't feel like getting out of bed when it is time to wake up
• You keep snoozing the alarm whenever it rings to wake you up
• You feel sleepy after a heavy meal
• You feel lazy in the afternoon
• You fall asleep almost immediately you lay on your bed
• You feel bored and sleepy in meetings and lectures
• You need to sleep extra whenever you are free; like during the weekends
• You fall asleep while watching a movie
• You cannot make through the day without naps
Effects of Chronic Sleep Deprivation
Although losing sleep might not appear like a big deal for some, chronic lack of sleep has adverse effects that extend way beyond daytime drowsiness. Daytime drowsiness impacts your judgement, reaction times, and coordination. As a matter of fact, sleep deprivation can have almost the same effects on your brain as drunkenness. Here are some of the results of limited sleeping time.
1. General fatigue.
2. Lack of self-drive.
3. Being moody and easily irritable.
4. Limited creativity.
5. Reduced ability to solve problems.
6. Inability to manage stress.
7. Loss of concentration.
8. Memory loss.
9. Weak immune system.
10. High risk of diabetes and heart disease.
11. Problems with decision-making.
12. Poor skills in operating machinery.
13. High probability of causing accidents especially when driving
14. Gaining weight.
Sleep Deprivation and Weight Gain
Sleep deprivation makes you less likely to do physical exercise, meaning you burn fewer calories compared to another person who is more active. What’s more, if you stay awake for long hours, you are likely to eat more than those who are sleeping.
There is a biological explanation why people who sleep less end up eating more. Two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, control your feeling of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, but once you are full, leptin signals your brain to stop producing ghrelin. However, if you sleep less, your body secretes more of ghrelin and little leptin. Therefore, you will tend to eat more than you are supposed to.
Sleep debt is the amount of sleeping time that you spend awake while you ought to be sleeping. In more mathematical terms, it’s the difference between the number of hours you sleep and the number of hours you actually sleep. If you skip sleep time, you must find a way to recover it to bring your “account” to equilibrium.
Most people try to repay the sleep debt by oversleeping during the weekend, but as it turns out, recovering from sleep deprivation requires slightly more. Oversleeping for a night or two won't entirely solve this problem. You may be relieved for the time being, but if you don't follow a proper sleeping schedule, you will soon slip back, possibly deeper, into the sleep debt.
How to Pay and/or Avoid Sleep Debt
1. Sleep for 7.5 or more hours per night – it will keep you from sinking deeper into the sleep debt cycle.
2. Settle your debt by spreading it over several days. For instance, you can increase the recommended sleeping time by one hour daily.
3. Keep a record of your sleeping habits. Capture things like the time you go to bed, how many hours you sleep and how you feel the following day. This record will help you determine the sleeping pattern that best suits you.
4. Organise your daily activities in such a way that you won't need to sacrifice your sleep. Prioritise sleeping.
5. Dedicate several days for resting. During such days, sleep until you wake up naturally. This way, you will settle your sleep debt.
Quality of Your Sleep
Having enough time for sleep is not all that matters. You could have all the time to rest but still have trouble falling asleep, waking up in the morning, or staying alert during daytime. These are indicators that you are not having quality sleep. Here are some factors that impact the quality of sleep that you enjoy:
1. Interruptions that may make you wake up. Some people cannot resume sleep comfortably after an interruption.
2. Working on night shifts. The body is programmed to sleep during the night. Indeed, many people cannot get adequate sleep during the day.
3. Some medical conditions can interfere with your sleeping patterns.
4. Some drugs can contribute to sleeplessness.
5. Aged people are prone to insomnia.
6. Stress can make you to sleep for less than the recommended hours.
7. Change in the sleeping place. Some people are not comfortable sleeping elsewhere except in their beds.
8. Smoking and drinking can also disrupt deep sleep.
9. Consumption of heavy meals just before going to bed can make you uncomfortable, hence unable to sleep well.
Tips for Night and Shift Workers
According to the National Sleep Foundation, if you work at night, do the following to improve the quality of sleep that you enjoy:
1. Adjust your sleeping schedule. You can achieve this by using bright lighting bulbs at your workplace and using dark sunglasses during the day to encourage sleeping.
2. Take drinks containing caffeine early in your shift and avoid them towards the end.
3. Avoid consecutive night jobs or irregular shifts as much as possible to avoid accumulation of sleep deprivation.
4. Take breaks within the shift, move around and stretch.
5. Compensate for your sleeping time as soon as you are free.
6. Install blackout curtains in your bedroom to make it as dark as possible.
7. Eliminate any form of noise while sleeping.
As you will have read above the importance of sleep should not be overlooked. Sleep is essential in our day to day activities. Too little sleep can impact our emotional, mental and physical well-being. Try to avoid sleep deprivation by improving the quality of your sleep.
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