We definitely live in an electronic era that requires multi-tasking and often leads to fewer than 8 hours of sleep per night. Electronic devices keep us constantly connected to family and friends through social media, keep us in constant communication with our work via email and messaging apps, and distract us from visiting with those around, as well as deter us from a reasonable bedtime at night. Most people really undervalue the health benefits of sleeping for 8 hours a night, and having comfortable, quality sleep. Likewise, most people are clueless about the toll of sleep deprivation on mental health.
Children are less able to pay attention in class, when they are sleepy at school. Adults are less able to focus and less able to make good decisions, when sleepy. Considering things adults typically do – driving, working, cooking, possibly operating heavy machinery or weapons (law enforcement), performing surgeries, calculating multi-million dollar contracts, arguing legal cases, making political judgements, and caring for our children, amongst others – it is quite dangerous for someone to be trying to do these important things with a sleepy mind! The human mind is not able to deal with stress, even minimal daily stressors, in a productive manner when it is sleep deprived. Think about how cranky you feel when you are tired. Think about how forgetful you feel when sleepy and how difficult it is to concentrate. Then, put yourself in the shoes of a teenager with raging hormones, stress from peer pressure, academic pressure, acne, body weight, sports/clubs/band/cheerleading, future career dilemma, and think about how much more dangerous it is for new teenage drivers to be on the road with not enough sleep per night.
The ability to deal with stress and/or learn new material and solidify those memories at night becomes exponentially worse with fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night. Students that sleep 8-9 hours per night were shown to do better academically than when slept fewer than 7 hours per night. Sleep is imperative for learning and storing of memories, as both are disrupted with sleep deprivation. The brain solidifies memories during human sleep. Thus, if a student is getting fewer than 8 hours/night, their learning and memory are impaired, thus their grades will decrease, their stress levels rise, they will probably cut into their sleep to study longer, and then the viscous cycle continues.
Similarly, when adults stress, especially at night, then they tend to have poorer quality and fewer hours of sleep. This results in more stress and moodiness the following day, in addition to stressing about having slept too few hours. This results in exhaustion and poor sleep again, and the cycle can eventually lead to depression.
Contrary to the belief of most people, sleep deprivation can mean only getting 6 hours of sleep per night, for more than 3 nights. Most people think of sleep deprivation as not sleeping for 48-72 hours or only sleeping 2-4 hours per night for a number of nights in a row. While those do fit the description of sleep deprivation, so does anything less than 8 hours of sleep per night.
Most people feel that sleep is a luxury and that our bodies will just adjust if we sleep less than 8 hours per night. Sir John Lubbock said it well when he stated that, “Rest is not idleness…”. Sleep is the time when the bodies and minds are at rest, allowing our cells, tissues, organs, and entire body to be in a repair process. Think about how much physical and mental energy we expend on a daily basis; your body cannot continue this long-term unless you give it the proper amount of time to rest, rejuvenate, and repair at night. Scientific studies are showing that the increase in obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, mental disorders and stroke can result from sleeping less than 8 hours a night, particularly in response to increased cortisol levels. This is because the human body interprets the sleep deprivation as a stress on the body, and the adrenal gland in turn produces cortisol. This leads to high blood sugar levels, weight gain, cravings for junk food throughout the day, and the diseases mentioned above.
Even for those who “catch” up on sleep on the weekends. Consider that at 6 hours of sleep/night, after four nights during the week, a person has lost an entire night’s sleep. It is not possible to catch up on all of the missed sleep during the weekend.
Therefore, it is crucial for us to realize in today’s society that sleep is not a luxury, not a waste of time, nor is it optional! Sleep is vital for our health and longevity!