Sleepy Nation: Are You Listening to Your Body’s Exhaustion?

Filed in The Healthy Writer by on April 6, 2011 • views: 778

young business woman sleeping on the deskWe Americans fail to listen to our bodies.

I caught part of a documentary today called Eyes Wide Open, directed by Quentin McDermott. Broadcast on the Documentary Channel, it talked about how sleep deprivation is becoming a way of life for many of us, with economists estimating that sleep disorders cost us over $9 billion a year.

Over the last decade, the evidence connecting lack of sleep with health problems has been mounting. Here are just a few of the effects:

  • Losing one night’s sleep generally causes a person to be irritated and clumsy.
  • Losing two night’s sleep can cause problems concentrating and will increase mistakes made on normal tasks.
  • Three missed nights and a person will start to hallucinate and lose grasp of reality.
  • Other short-term consequences include an impaired immune system and reduction in the ability to think clearly.
  • Long-term consequences include high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, depression, obesity (lack of sleep increases hunger and affects metabolism), and increased mortality.

“80,000 people a day fall asleep at the wheel,” said one scientist on the program. “Once every two minutes one of those people crashes.”

The Problem is Infecting Our Kids

If you still don’t think this is a serious problem, consider this: Over 35 percent of children now have a sleep problem of some sort, which affects their performance in school, their behavior, and their metabolic function, setting them up for health problems later in life.

In fact, today’s kids, from elementary to high school, get about an hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago. Scientists theorize that sleep problems in childhood can cause permanent changes in brain structure. One study showed that a sleepy sixth-grader performs in class like a fourth-grader.1

“It is estimated that people on average now sleep one and a half hours less than people did a century ago,” says “Some experts are even beginning to wonder if widespread sleep deprivation is having an effect on America’s brainpower and creativity.”

Why are We So Sleep Deprived?

Why are we losing so much sleep? Typical culprits include our long work schedules, technology (computers, televisions, and cell phones in the bedroom interfere with sleep), an inability to relax and de-stress, and an overabundance of extra activities.

Many of us live in a culture where going without sleep is seen as a sign of strength. Teens and college students often get a “high” off of sleep deprivation; while military, corporate executives, and other highly disciplined professions admire those who can work long hours with little sleep.

Think about it. How often do you feel good about saying to someone, “Sorry, can’t make it. I need to get some sleep?”

Signs You Need More Sleep

The body tells us when it needs to rest. Here are a few signs you’re not getting enough shut-eye. If any of these sound familiar to you, you owe it to yourself to make some changes.

It’s not a stretch to say that getting enough sleep can add years to your life.

  • You have to have an alarm clock to get up in time.
  • You feel tired when you drive.
  • You have to have coffee in the morning—and maybe several other times during the day—to function correctly.
  • You find yourself making mistakes.
  • You’re grouchy, cranky, and irritable.
  • You have a hard time remembering things.
  • You frequently catch colds, infections, and flus.
  • Simple decisions seem difficult.
  • You’re hungry, even after eating normally all day, and you crave sugars and simple carbs.
  • You cry easily.
  • You blink a lot.
  • You’ve lost your sense of humor.
  • Your body says, “I’m tired!”
Po Bronson. Snooze or Lose. New York Magazine, October 7, 2007.

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