Why Is Sleep Important

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Getting enough sleep is arguably the most important thing that you can do to improve your physical and mental health.  During sleep, your body performs all necessary maintenance, heals itself, processes the events and emotions from the day, rests, and refreshes itself.

“Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health. When sleep is deficient, there is sickness and disease. And when sleep is abundant, there is vitality and health.”

-Matthew Walker

Though sleep is essential to every system in our bodies, people are getting less sleep than ever—35% of adults in the US report sleeping less than seven hours a night.  Sleep deprivation also affects our children and teenagers. Fifty-seven percent of middle schoolers and 78% of high school students report getting less than the recommended amount of sleep.  Even our small children are affected; 25% of children under five years old have been diagnosed with sleep disorders.  With numbers like this, it is clear that we have a national sleep crisis.

Sleep Evolution

Throughout history, our sleep cycle and the cycle of the sun have been inexorably connected.  While the sun shone, we worked, ate, and lived, and when the sun went down, we went to bed.  The earliest human ancestors had every reason to live this way.  Without the sun, they had no light other than what the fire provided, and darkness brought danger.  Predators haunted the night, hunting our ancestors with fierce determination.

We have grown and evolved as a species since those early humans.  However, the genes that we inherited from them still dictate our body’s circadian rhythms. For example, fear of the darkness is still natural human fear, and the need to sleep in dark, cool places, like the caves our early ancestors inhabited, still drives our bodies.

Though our bodies retain this genetic predisposition for sleeping at night, modern society is structured for maximum productivity day and night.  Though our jobs today are often less physically demanding than our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ hard physical labor, the mental exertion usually leaves our minds unable to quiet themselves enough for us to get good sleep. Moreover, light pollution makes finding an entirely dark place to relax our minds and bodies more challenging to find.

“We could never deny our ancient ancestors.  For no matter how much we evolve, our very DNA screams back to our time living huddled in caves, finger painting on the walls by firelight.” Dr. Tomkinson

Today we will examine who is affected most by sleep deprivation and what we can do to sleep soundly.

Look Who’s Awake

Globally, there is a crisis of sleeplessness, but sleep deprivation does affect some groups more than others.  Here are some interesting statistics on who is most likely wide awake right now.

  • 35% of US adults get less than seven hours of sleep a night
  • 44% of people who work factory or production jobs sleep less than seven hours a night
  • Active duty military are 34% more likely to be sleep-deprived than non-military
  • 32% of working adults get less than six hours of sleep a night
  • 42% of single parents get less than seven hours of sleep  a night
  • 32% of people with children in a two-parent home get less than seven hours of sleep a night
  • 31% of adults with no children get less than seven hours of sleep a night
  • Hawaii has the highest rate of sleep deprivation of the US states
  • South Dakota has the lowest rate of sleep deprivation of the US states

Race and Sleep

According to the Center for Disease Control, these are the results of people who report getting less than seven hours of sleep by race.

  • 33% of Caucasians
  • 34% of Hispanics
  • 45% of Blacks
  • 37% of Asians
  • 40% of American Indians/ Native Alaskans
  • 46% of Native Hawaiians/ Pacific Islanders
  • 44% Others/ Multi-Racial People

People with Insomnia

“Insomnia can have several causes and factors making it difficult to treat.  Prescribing sleep medication can help, but it is not the solution.  A combination of medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and physical exercise may help some patients.” Dr. Tomkinson

  • Women are 40% more likely to experience insomnia over their lifetime than men
  • 10%-30% of adults experience insomnia
  • 30%-48% of senior adults experience insomnia
  • 40% of patients with mental health disorders also have insomnia
  • 75% of patients with depression suffer from insomnia
  • 90% of patients with military-related PTSD have insomnia

Financial Cost of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep Deprivation costs us more money and lives every year than we can even estimate.  When a person is sleep-deprived, they are incapable of functioning at their highest potential. As a result, they are prone to make poor choices and mistakes.” Dr. Tomkinson

  • Tired Driving causes 6000 car crashes per year in the US
  • Sleep Deprivation costs the US an estimated 411 billion dollars a year
  • People with insomnia are seven times more likely to have accidents at work
  • Nurses that work twelve-hour shifts make three times more medical errors than nurses who work eight-hour shifts

Things You Do That Can Help or Hurt your Sleep

  • Drinking alcohol 90 minutes or less before bed may help you fall asleep faster, but you will have an overall worse night’s sleep.  Alcohol causes what is known as the “rebound effect.”  The rebound effect is that initially, alcohol depresses your system; your body temperature drops, making you tired.  But after an hour or two is becomes a stimulant; it increases your temperature and wakes you up.
  • Exercising at least thirty minutes a day will improve your sleep quality drastically. In addition, exercise is a natural stress reliever allowing your mind to relax enough for you to sleep.  Exercise also makes your body tired by burning excess energy.
  • Do not exercise an hour or less before sleep.  Exercise releases endorphins into your body which increase your energy levels.  Exercise is vital to healthy sleep hygiene but should always be done earlier in your day or evening.
  • Hang blackout curtains in your bedroom.  Too much light makes it harder for you to fall into a deep sleep.  Blackout curtains will keep your room nice and dark, just the way our ancient genes like it.
  • Do not eat a heavy meal close to bedtime.  Heavy meals can cause indigestion and heartburn, which are some of the leading causes of sleep disruption in the US.
  • Do not go to bed hungry.  If you find that you are hungry before bed, eat a snack of fruit or hot cereal.  These will help you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Create a peaceful and tranquil environment in your bedroom.  Do not use your bedroom for work if you can help it.  You want your body to associate it with peace, calming thoughts, and good sleep.
  • Turn the temperature down on your thermostat.  Your body will sleep better in a cooler room, ideally 70 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
  • Do not drink caffeine for five hours or less before going to bed.  Caffeine stays in your system for a minimum of five hours. So avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee, soda, tea, and energy drinks after the mid-afternoon, allowing the caffeine to leave your system before bed.
  • Do not use technology with a screen like computers, phones, tablets, and televisions for an hour or more before bed.  The blue light that screens shine has proven to cause sleep dysregulation.
  • Create a sleep schedule.  Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.  This will create good sleeping habits for your body.
  • Buy comfortable bedding.  Uncomfortable, itchy, or heavy fabrics can make it hard to fall asleep.  Replace your pillows as necessary for maximum comfort.
  • Do something relaxing for at least thirty minutes before bed.  Things like reading, listening to relaxing music, meditation, or having a hot un-caffeinated drink can relax your mind and body.
  • Put work away at least an hour before bed.  Work makes your brain active, and it can increase stress.  These things do not encourage healthy sleep.  Put work away, turn off your work phone (unless you can’t because you are on call), and don’t allow your mind to dwell on work issues.
  • Replace an uncomfortable, worn-out mattress.  Your sleep is the foundation of your good health.  Investing in a good bed is an investment in your health.  There are good mattresses available online that are reasonably priced and are quality products.  Talk to friends and family and look at online reviews to decide which mattress is the best choice for you.  Most mattress companies offer a money-back guarantee if you get it home and don’t like it.

Conclusion

Our bodies need sleep just as much today as they did 5,000 years ago. But, unfortunately, we are getting less sleep every year, and this is costing us lives and money. So we must learn to value our health as much as we love productivity.

“You only have one life and one body to live it in.  Treasure it because you don’t get a do-over.” Dr. Tomkinson

The information in this article is not meant for diagnostic purposes, and we are not doctors. Please consult your doctor before making any decisions concerning your healthcare.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, May 2). CDC – Data and Statistics – Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html.

Leech, J. (2020, February 25). 10 Reasons Why Good Sleep Is Important. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important#4.-Good-sleep-can-maximize-athletic-performance.

Sleep Statistics – Facts and Data About Sleep 2020. Sleep Foundation. (2021, February 8). https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-facts-statistics.

Xplore. (n.d.). Matthew Walker Quotes. BrainyQuote. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/matthew_walker_937671?src=t_sleep.

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