Sleep deprivation is a growing risk among adults and students? In the workplace it is worn as a badge where executives and their employees boast about how little sleep they can get by on. In case you are reading this and doubting, studies reveal that the number of people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without any impairment is zero.

The truth of sleeping less than what we require has a direct impact on our present and even more so, on our future state of well-being. And well-being is not even considering the vitality of well-being, but rather on preventing the most serious non-communicable diseases from showing up. For many, that may be sufficient.

The fitness and health industry aggressively market their products to treat a host of health symptoms, including that of helping people sleep better. However, if one uses a little common insight and listen to the body, you would not need 95% of what you are buying.

Over the past 75 years, in 1942, less than 8% of the population was trying to survive on six hours or less sleep a night. In 2017, almost 50% try survive on 6 or less hours.

There are numerous causes to why this is happening. We learn, alongside the demands of work, we electrified the night. Time with family or entertainment is important and so sleep is sacrificed instead. Anxiety shows up as another cause and then there are the numerous causes to living an anxious life. It is stated that people today are lonelier with greater bouts of depression then ever before. Stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine type foods and drinks are more widely available. All these are important factors to sleeping well.

We find humans are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent reason. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker has researched and shown that sleep deprivation is increasing the risk of having a heart attack, stroke and developing cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Getting too little sleep across the adult lifespan will significantly, amongst other lifestyle factos, raise your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Walker’s research shows that amyloid deposits (a toxin protein) that accumulate in the brains of those suffering from the Alzheimer’s, kills the surrounding cells. During deep sleep, such deposits are effectively cleaned from the brain. Without sufficient sleep, these plaques build up, especially in the brain’s deep-sleep-generating regions, attacking and degrading them.

After about 20 to 30 minutes of deep sleep, you move back into the lighter stages of sleep. This is followed by a period of REM sleep that occurs about 80 minutes after falling asleep. This first period of “dreaming” sleep is quite short (about 5 minutes or so) and then a new sleep cycle begins. During the following cycles, the periods of deep sleep get shorter and shorter and the periods of REM sleep get longer. REM sleep seems particularly important for psychological recovery. If you do not get enough REM sleep you will awake feeling unrefreshed and have lower levels of alertness throughout the day.

When we realise the seriousness of sleep on our health, after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep, our natural killer cells – the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in our body every day – drop by 70%, or that a lack of sleep is linked to cancer of the bowel, prostate and breast. The World Health Organisation has classed any form of nighttime shift work as a probable carcinogen.

Statistically, heart disease takes the lives of 1 in 3 people. Adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven or eight hours a night. Maybe by now you would be warning those you know who get by on less sleep.

  • Amongst other serious consequences of sleep deprivation, an adult sleeping only 6.75 hours a night would be predicted to live only to their early 60s without medical intervention.
  • For those that stay up late or students who spend the evening studying and then driving the following day, who had less than five hours’ sleep, there is a 4.3 times more likely risk to be involved in a crash. If driving after only sleeping 4 hours, there is a 11.5 times more likely probability to be involved in an accident.
  • For the avid exercise enthusiast, the time taken to reach physical exhaustion of sleeping anything less than 8 hours, and especially less than six hours, drops by 10-30%.
  • If you thinking you may suffer from sleep apnea or insomnia, studies reveal that there are now more than 100 diagnosed sleep disorders.

Sleeping better can be resolved by understanding your own sleeping pattern, improving sleeping habits and sleep hygiene. In next month’s issue we will share how to improve these habits.

Peter Šmanjak

Owner and Founder at Infinite Risk

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