March 6th marked the beginning of Sleep Awareness Week, to promote healthy living through effective sleeping habits. Most adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, but the CDC reports that 28% get fewer than 6 hours a night. 6 hours just isn’t enough sleep for most adults, not only for feeling rested the next day, but also for preventing health problems. Lack of sleep has been linked to major health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. “Serious as a heart attack” translates into getting serious about your nightly rest. If there are aspects of your life that interfere with getting more than 7 hours of sleep every night, it’s time to make some adjustments.
Promoting a Healthy Brain and Emotional Well-Being
Sleep allows your brain to prepare for the next day, so sleeping “less than 7” interferes with your ability to learn and retain important facts. This is especially important for college students. Pulling an all-nighter may seem like a good idea to cram for an exam, but less sleep means less memory retention and poorer exam performance.
According to research, sleep deficiency can alter brain activity, interfering with decision making and controlling your emotions. Sleep deficiency can even be linked to depression and risk-taking behavior. If you’re struggling with daily stress, safeguarding your sleep time can be one of the most helpful choices you can make.
Preserving Motor Skills and Safety
If you drive while sleep-deprived, you are increasing the risk to both to yourself and the drivers around you. This is because your reaction time and awareness are greatly reduced when you’re feeling tired, upping the odds of getting into an accident. The Institute of Medicine has estimated that one out of five auto accidents in the U.S. result from people driving while tired. This equals over a million accidents every year.
Improving Physical Health
Sleeping well can greatly improve your immune system and reduce the chance of getting serious health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Sleep is involved in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels (and cardiovascular disease is still the Number One killer in America). A stronger immune system means getting sick fewer times – some studies estimate a 3 to 5 fold increase in the risk of getting colds and flus when you are sleep deprived. Sleep helps to maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel full, so sleeping less can translate into feeling hungrier and being more likely to break diets. Sleep also controls insulin levels, resulting in a stable and healthy blood pressure. This is why sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity and diabetes.
Don’t let your surroundings control the amount of sleep that you get regularly, because a good night’s sleep can essentially help you live longer and happier. It’s too important to leave to chance. If you find yourself staying up late and waking up early because of your job, think about restructuring your work duties, delegating more when possible, and focusing on the critical items rather than time-consuming “busy work.” If you’re constantly going out late, it’s time to scale it back so that “wake up time minus 7” is the latest you’ll go lights-out (ideally it should be “wake up time minus 8”). And if you spend time on your smartphone, tablet, or computer before bedtime, turn those off or consider some blue light blocking glasses – the LEDs in those device screens emit a blue light spectrum that tricks the brain into thinking it’s time to wake up and face the day.
To our local Orange County residents: If you are experiencing any serious effects of sleep deprivation, please visit one of our local urgent care centers in Woodbridge, Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa. You can schedule an appointment here.
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