Sleep deprivation will take toll on health

We’ve all done it. Tried to power through on less than a good night’s sleep, maybe pulled an “all-nighter” cramming for an exam or simply laid awake all night worrying about something. The bad news is that acute and especially chronic sleep deprivation is a very serious situation in North America that has long-term personal and societal consequences.

Sleep experts state that although the amount of sleep that people require is somewhat individual, adults generally need between seven to nine hours of sleep to be refreshed and teens need about nine hours — some requiring up to 10 hours a night. These experts indicate that most teenagers get nowhere near the amount of sleep that they need and at least 25 percent of teens get less than eight hours a night.

The effects of long-term sleep deprivation are extensive and serious. There is a noted increase in cardiovascular disease in those who habitually get less sleep than they require. A noted increase in hostility and irritability is also found. Over 100,000 car accidents in North America are due to fatigue, leaving over 6,000 people dead per year. It is established that over 50 percent of the 80,000 people who fall asleep at the wheel in America are teens.

Also, because of feelings of frustration and other negative emotions, there is a positive correlation between lack of sleep and alcohol and drug abuse. In fact, these are common markers that lead health care workers to suspect underlying sleep deprivation as a possible contributing cause.

Weight gain and obesity are directly correlated to lack of sleep due to hormonal disruptions in the body. Sleep deprivation leads to anxiety and increased stress. A vicious cycle develops in those who are depressed, since sleep deprivation leads to depression and depression leads to sleeplessness.

There is a noted link between sleep deprivation and the onset of Type II diabetes and regulation of blood sugar. A noted link is recorded for those who get less than five or six hours of sleep a night and significant raise in blood sugar. Further, lack of sleep leads to increased infections, a weakened immune system and whole body inflammation which can lead to the onset of cancer or other inflammatory diseases. Obviously, many of these conditions can result in a shortened life expectancy and a lowered life quality.

Lack of sleep causes decreased mental focus, reduced drive and mental sharpness as well, it impacts the memory. It can result in blurred vision and a decreased tolerance to pain. Skin experts note that during sleep the skin can renew its collagen but under circumstances of sleep deprivation, the skin ages and thins quickly because collagen is not replenished nightly.

A study published in Pediatrics (June 2009), indicated that approximately 33 percent of teens reported falling asleep in school. It is established that sleep deprivation leads to ADHD, resulting in poor grades and academic performance which can further result in lowering a student’s self-esteem. Also noted among teenagers is that lack of sleep increases their risk-taking behaviors including drug and alcohol usage, lack of sexual inhibitions and other risky behaviors.

Although the occasional late night or restless night is not going to tip the balance between good health and poor health, developing consistent good sleep habits is an important part of being fit and healthy. In order to be at the top of your game it is imperative. Sleeping is not a waste of time but it is part of an overall health and wellness strategy to ensure that you live well and live long.

Some strategies to ensure a good night’s sleep are of course, to exercise — preferably in the morning — eat well, and don’t watch television in bed or read stimulating materials before trying to sleep. Meditation and deep breathing exercises help clear your mind and relax your body. A soothing soak in the tub may also help prepare you mentally for sleep.

It is also recommended to not take your work to bed with you, but to do your homework or office work at the desk or table. Gently calming music, soothing colors and darkness in the bedroom all help ensure a good night’s sleep. It is worth it to get the sleep you need.

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Jane Riley is a certified personal trainer, adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com or (808) 212-8119 and www.janerileyfitness.com

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