Don’t you just love a good night’s sleep? Unfortunately, we aren’t sleeping enough, according to the Better Sleep Council 80% of Americans say they could use more of it.
The National Sleep Foundation conducted a series of polls done on the average amount of sleep Americans get per night and our lack of sleep is shocking…
Over the past two decades we’re getting less sleep than ever. We can attribute this to longer work days and more demanding technology.
Let’s face it, we are glued to our smartphones, tablets, and computers, the sad thing is that it’s unlikely to change in the future.
What you may not know is that the blue light from the screen on your phone or computer is actually exciting your brain, making it harder for you to shut down and get some quality sleep.
But don’t get alarmed and think you need to spend 10-12 hours sleeping each night. In this case more isn’t always better.
The key to a better night’s sleep is to prepare yourself for sleep. Avoid using electronics within a few hours of your intended bedtime, don’t eat immediately before bed, and generally try to calm your mind and quiet troublesome thoughts.
How Can You Tell If You’re Suffering from a Lack of Sleep?
Do you always hit the snooze button? If you have trouble getting up in the morning, that’s your body’s way of telling you that you need more rest. You should absolutely listen to your body, because the effects of lack of sleep are pretty serious.
In fact, a good night’s sleep is more beneficial to your body that a healthful diet or exercise.
Sleep allows your body to regenerate muscles and neurons in the brain. A person who gets less than 6 hours of sleep a night is at a greatly increased risk of developing diabetes, having a heart attack, or stroke.
What’s worse is that the effects of lack of sleep don’t end there. Lack of sleep can lead to an assortment of other problems, including:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Increased blood pressure
- Memory loss
- Cerebral shrinkage
- Brain damage
- Even sudden death
Yes, you read that correctly. Studies of rats have shown that intense sleep deprivation can cause death relatively quickly. Sleep is vital to help the body to regenerate and refresh.
When we don’t sleep we impair the effectiveness of our immune system.
How? The body produces fewer white blood cells, the activity of existing white blood cells is slowed, and growth hormones are released in far smaller amounts throughout the body. These problems can snowball out of control in extreme cases.
Brain Malfunctions Traced to Lack of Sleep
However, even a mild amount of sleep deprivation can have significant consequences for our day-to-day lives.
Studies done at the University of California San Diego have compared the brain functions of well-rested people with those who were sleep deprived, and the results were fascinating and a little scary.A lack of sleep causes the neurons in our brains to malfunction.Click To Tweet
The temporal lobe, which deals with processing language, is not at adept at its job when we are deprived of sleep. This can lead to slurred speech, or difficulty formulating coherent thoughts.
Similarly, the parietal lobe, which helps us solve math problems, can’t do its job nearly as quickly or accurately when we are sleep deprived.
What’s interesting is that in most of these cases, the brain tries to pick up some slack by using other regions to process information when we are sleep deprived.
If the temporal lobe can’t function at its normal capacity, it will enlist the help of the parietal lobe. While this should work in theory, the reality isn’t quite what we’d hope for.
Think about it this way; you wouldn’t ask a lawyer to build a table for you, would you? Sure, he might be capable, but he’s not skilled in the areas of woodworking, construction, and building that makes a carpenter the right choice for the job.
Psychologist Matthew Walker at University of California Berkley discovered additional problems that arise from sleep deprivation. Walker and his team showed well-rested subjects and sleep-deprived subjects a series of images while monitoring their brain activity using an MRI.
Walker showed the test subjects a series of images specifically picked to provoke an emotional response.
The amygdala, which is responsible for our emotions, works in conjunction with the prefrontal cortex to add context to our feelings, at least in a normal brain.
In the subjects who were sleep-deprived, the amygdala communicated with the locus coeruleus, which regulates the release of norepinephrine, a precursor to adrenaline. Thus, the sleep-deprived subjects exhibited a far more intense physiological response to the images and experienced a literal “pendulum of emotions.” In other words their emotions swung out of control.
Walker believes that sleep deprivation is a major contributing factor to many psychiatric disorders. Typically, psychologists often think of sleep deprivation as a side effect of these disorders, but Walker’s research suggests otherwise.
Sleep just might be the most undervalued part of your life. But a good night’s rest is probably the best thing you can do for your mind and body on a daily basis.
In this age of memory foam mattresses and sleep-monitoring smartphone apps, there’s no reason you can’t adjust your schedule, turn off your devices, and catch some good Z’s.
Take a couple of minutes to watch this short and memorable TED talk by Arianna Huffington on how sleep can even be the secret to greater happiness and success.