One of our most primal instinct and a basic necessity in almost every living being – sleep.
Most of us have periods where we go days, weeks, or dare-I-say, years with lack of sleep. We don’t realize how much our body depreciates when we lose sleep.
The longer these periods are and we soon forget what “normal” feels like.
Have you ever had a deadline to beat and time, your arch-nemesis? A twenty-one-page thesis due in three days but you’ve only written three of those twenty-one pages on top of full days worth of lectures and studying for exams.
Your first sacrifice? Sleep.
Finally, as you’re turning in that project, you look at the circles under your classmates’ eyes and hallucinate that you’re in an episode of the walking dead. Hyped up on whatever caffeine you can get your hands on for weeks but now the adrenaline finally wears off. You crash onto your bed and zonk out for 12 hours straight. Waking up, you feel groggy and not much better than you did 12 hours ago. Why is that? Because sleep is not something you can capitalize on.
According to neuroscientist and sleep expert, Dr. Matthew Walker, we can’t regain the sleep that we’ve lost. He estimates that you only get back about half the sleep that you’ve lost.
For example, if you pull an all-nighter and sleep for the next 8 hours, you’ll only get back 3-4 hours of that lost total 8.
In Dr. Walker’s book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, he writes about the importance of sleep hygiene (e.g. one hour of cell phone use will delay melatonin production by about 3 hours), how sleep is the best legal performance-enhancing drug that people aren’t taking advantage of, and how short sleep predicts mortality.
Here are the key points that everybody should know about sleep health:
1. Sleep is essential for survival. This one is one of those duh points but we think it’s important to stress anyway. Each year, around 100,000 car accidents happen as a result of drivers who are “asleep at the wheel”. In fact, one of the most dangerous days to drive is actually on the morning of daylight savings when the clock is pushed forward.
There is an increased risk of crashes or near misses due to lack of sleep which has been studied time and time again in medical residents, truck drivers, and shift workers.
Sleep impairs cognitive function on a fundamental level that is hard to perceive when you yourself are sleep deprived. It’s basically like driving drunk. How scary is that?
2. Less sleep is linked to a poorer immune system. All you need is one sleepless night for you to catch a cold from Bob, the guy that sits next to you at work who never covers his mouth when he coughs. Natural killer cells and other immune system cells are decreased during sleep deprivation.
Researchers found that if you lose sleep on the same day you get your flu shot, your body actually delays producing immunity cells.
3. We sleep way less than our grandparents. In 1910, the “normal” average time an adult sleeps is 9 hours a night. In 1942, the average was 7.9 hours.
Today, the average American is sleeping 6 hours and 31 minutes during the week.
More study results are showing that we do indeed need 7-9 hours a night. Unfortunately, our grandparents were doing it right and we’re doing it wrong.
4. Poor sleep is linked to weight gain. Trying to lose that extra ten pounds to fit into your dream dress before the big wedding day? Well, it won’t be easy if you’re not getting enough sleep.
People who sleep only 4-5 hours a night tend to get urges to eat an extra 200-300 extra calories a day. This equals roughly 10-15 lbs of extra weight each year.
Ghrelin level increases, stimulating appetite. Leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, decrease during lack of sleep. Additionally, chronic lack of sleep in healthy volunteers were found to have sugar levels similar to those of an early diabetic.
5. Sleep well to prevent Alzheimer’s dementia. Chronic lack of sleep can be a risk factor for dementia. During loss of sleep, amyloid-beta plaques build up in the brain.
Accumulation of these plaques has been implicated as a cause of Alzheimer’s dementia.
6. Melatonin might help you initiate sleep but studies are mixed on whether your sleep will actually be improved. Melatonin is secreted by a gland in your brain to help regulate circadian rhythm.
Exposure to light stops the gland from making melatonin.
Although studies report that melatonin helps you fall asleep, it isn’t confirmed whether or not taking melatonin as a supplement will help with “sleep efficiency”. At worse, melatonin is a placebo. Hey, if it helps you fall asleep and there’s no harm to it, why not?
Sleep is a fundamental part of human life. But why is it that humans are the only creatures in the planet that deprive themselves of sleep for what seems like no outward gain? This question remains to be on the mind of every sleep scientist because it has yet to be answered.
Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
- Avoid watching another Netflix special or scrolling through Instagram 1-2 hours before bedtime. Light from electronic devices can prevent you from becoming sleepy.
- Use earplugs if you have an a-hole neighbor who likes to blast EDM at midnight.
- Wear an eyemask or close your blinds to prevent streetlight from streaming in.
- Listen to sound therapy machines to help you relax and promote sleepiness.
- Get cozy in your bedroom and create a relaxing sleeping space.
- Does smoking weed affect how you sleep? Learn more about it here.
- Li, T et al. Exogenous melatonin as a treatment for secondary sleep disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology. 2018.
- Minkel J., Banks S., and Dinges D. Behavioral Change with Sleep Deprivation. Neuroscience of sleep. 2009; 241-248
- Spiegel K., Sheridan J.F., and Van Cauter E. Effect of sleep deprivation on response to immunization. JAMA. 2002; 288: 1471-1472
- Spiegel K., Leproult R., and Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999; 354: 1435-1439
- Zaremba S., Chamberlin N., and Eikermann M. Sleep Medicine. Miller’s Anesthesia. 2015; 14: 303-328