The Importance of Sleep: Why Deprivation is Dangerous
By Dr. Chad Walding, DPT
October 16th, 2019
What does your morning routine look like?
My guess is that you drag yourself out of bed and head straight for the coffee pot. You may even mumble something to your significant other and then completely forget that you had even spoken to them at all.
Does this sound familiar?
Then I have one question for you: How much sleep do you get each night?
If your answer is anything less than seven hours, then you may be at an increased risk for:
- Mental illness
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Heart disease
As with the recent discovery of the glymphatic system, scientists are always learning more ways that sleep is healing for both our minds and bodies and it appears that getting even one more hour of rest each night is something we should all strive to be doing.
As a doctor, I completely understand the demands of day-to-day life, the need to be productive, and the satisfaction of still making time to be with my family. However, feeling tired and overworked isn’t just a state of mind – it’s your body demanding rest in order for it to stay functional and healthy.
We often hear the term sleep-deprived being used to describe how tired someone is, as though being deprived of sleep is somehow normal. Our bodies are not naturally inclined to function on little rest and this may be why some of the diseases and conditions we see today are so prevalent and rapidly growing in number.
Why Is Sleep Important?
Getting enough sleep is vital to your overall well being. The amount of sleep you’re getting each night and the quality of that sleep can have a detrimental effect on your mental health, physical health, and quality of life.
And, as an adolescent, the need for proper sleep is even more important. Not only does it promote healthy brain function, but it also supports proper growth during their childhood and throughout puberty.
Let’s take a look at three ways that quality sleep promotes better health:
- Brain function
While you’re asleep, your brain is paving new pathways that help you to retain new information. This allows you to enhance your problem-solving skills and learning capabilities.
- A student studying for a spelling test?
- Trying to learn how to play an instrument?
- Preparing for a job interview?
Proper sleep patterns are going to help you to pay attention, be creative, and make good decisions throughout the day.
Some sleep studies have shown that the lack of sleep or sleep depravity, alters some of the activity in different parts of your brain. This ultimately causes issues with your behavior, controlling your emotions, coping with changes, decision making, and problem-solving.1
Children and teenagers who suffer from sleep depravity have shown to have problems with impulsivity, motivation, and their ability to get along with others.
- Physical health
Getting enough sleep at night plays a vital role in your physical health.
Chronic sleep deprivation can increase your chances of:2
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
Your immune system relies heavily on your body getting enough sleep to remain healthy. Research has found that ongoing sleep deprivation affects the way your immune system responds, leading you more susceptible to infections and illnesses.3
For adolescents, their body releases a protein hormone through the pituitary gland during sleep that is vital for proper growth and development. This hormone is responsible for boosting muscle mass, repairing tissues and cells, and forming fertility.
- Performance and safety
Did you know that if you lose just one to two hours of sleep per night for several nights, you're actually functioning as though you haven’t slept at all for 24 to 48 hours? This causes people to have a slower reaction time and make more mistakes.2
This lack of sleep can lead to something referred to as microsleep – short, involuntary moments of sleep that take place when you’re normally awake.4
For example, have you ever been driving somewhere and then suddenly realized you don’t remember part of the trip? You may have just experienced an episode of microsleep.
Most people don’t realize that they are sleep deficient, leading them to believe that they’re capable of driving. However, research shows us that driving on too little sleep harms your focus and performance just as much as driving under the influence.2
Did you know:5
- In any given 30-day period, approximately one in 25 drivers, aged 18 or older, fall asleep at the wheel.
- In 2013 alone, fatigued drivers were estimated to have caused 800 deaths and 44,000 injuries from 72,000 crashes.
- Commercial drivers are one of the most likely candidates to drive drowsy.
Being behind the wheel isn’t the only danger of lack of sleep, either. Sleep deficiency has led to many human errors in the workforce that have led to tragic mistakes causing catastrophes such as aviation and nuclear accidents.
What Is Sleep Deprivation?
Simply put, sleep deprivation is a sleeping disorder caused by a lack of sleep. And while sleep deprivation is not a disease in and of itself, it is usually caused by life circumstances or possibly other illnesses.
Sleep deprivation is becoming more common and tends to worsen as people grow older. While those who are older certainly need just as much sleep as younger adults, they tend to sleep lighter – affecting the productivity of your glymphatic system – and wake up more often during the night, leading people 65 years and older to develop frequent sleeping issues.
Besides aging, some other reasons someone may experience sleep deprivation are:6
- Sleeping disorders
- Insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, or even restless leg syndrome can contribute to sleep deprivation.
- You’ll find sleep deprivation to be common in people who suffer from schizophrenia, depression, chronic pain, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and cancer.
- Other factors
- This can include having a new baby, a change in work schedule, and stress.
Although a host of different reasons can factor into whether you’re at a greater risk of developing sleep deprivation, some people may be experiencing this sleeping condition simply because they are unaware of just how much sleep they should be aiming for each night.
Here is a simple guideline you can follow:7
- Newborns: 14 to 17 hours
- 12 months: 10 hours at night and 4 hours of napping during the day
- 2 years: 11 to 12 hours at night and one to two hours of napping during the day
- 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours
- 6 to 13 years: Nine to 11 hours
- 14 to 17 years: Eight to 10 hours
- 18+ years: Seven to nine hours
Many people don’t realize that you can’t function on a day to day basis without any negative effects when you’re sleep-deprived. In fact, when first experiencing sleep deprivation, your symptoms can be relatively minor, leading you to believe that you’ve been unaffected by a lack of sleep.
However, sleep deprivation can have some serious side effects if avoided too long. Let’s take a look at the symptoms you may experience.
Initial symptoms of sleep deprivation include:6
- Impaired memory
- Compromised immune system
- Lack of concentration
- Reduction of physical strength
Symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation are:
- Mental illness, including depression
- Increased risk for heart disease, stroke, or asthma attack
- Increased risk for insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy
- Severe mood swings
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you should speak with your doctor about seeing a sleep specialist. The treatments for sleep deprivation can vary based on the severity of your symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend:
- Sleeping pills
- This could include over-the-counter or prescription medications.
- Light therapy
- This lighting mimics outdoor light, which is crucial for regulating your sleeping cycles.8
- Breathing machines
- One reason you may be unable to stay asleep is due to sleep apnea. If your doctor believes this may be the case, a breathing machine – called a CPAP – may be prescribed.9
You can also create some home remedies to help combat sleep deprivation by:
- Sticking to a consistent schedule
- Taking a warm bath
- Keeping your room at a comfortable temperature
- Turning off electronics and reading a book before bed
If you would like to know some other ways you can fall asleep naturally, check out my 15 Tips for the Best Sleep Ever!
Your Glymphatic System and Sleep
Scientists have recently discovered that there is a link between the amount of sleep we’re able to get and cleaning out the nasty, built-up debris and toxins out of our brains.
The glymphatic system is a waste-clearing system in our bodies that also works to distribute glucose, amino acids, lipids, and neurotransmitters in the brain. This newly-discovered system in our bodies appears to function only while our bodies are in a deep sleep and disengage when we are awake.10
Since our sleep tends to become lighter and more disturbed as we age, it appears that this disengagement of the glymphatic system may link to things such as aging and Alzheimer’s disease.11 In fact, a 2017 study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison concluded that there is a correlation between poor sleep patterns and a build-up of the biological markers for Alzheimer’s disease.
We’ve learned through these recent studies that there’s even a link between your glymphatic system and exercise. In a 2018 study performed on mice, one group was given a running wheel while the other group was not. After five weeks, the mice who were exercising on the wheel had two times the increased glymphatic flow than the mice who were not exercising.
It appears that through sleep and exercise, we can improve the performance of our glymphatic systems and effectively reduce the amount of toxic debris from our brains!12
Improve Your Sleeping Cycle Naturally
Did you know that you can naturally improve your sleep cycle through proper nutrition and movement?
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This science-backed, 30-day program has everything you need to completely reset your body to its original and native settings, promoting better sleep that brings you long-lasting energy throughout the day!
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