Why Sleep Is Important-Impact on Health and Safety

Healthy People 2020 is a website established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It offers a nice outline of why the subject of sleep health is not just a personal health issue, but also a public health and safety concern. According to the site, poor sleep health is quite common with 25 percent of U.S. adults not getting enough sleep for 15 out of 30 days.

Sleep has two main functions. First, sleep conserves our energy so when we wake up we’re ready for the day. Second, sleep restores. While we’re awake, neurotransmitters in the brain are expended and is reduced. Sleep replenishes the supply of neurotransmitters (Donatelle, 2009).

The National Sleep Foundation’s 2008 Sleep in America survey found 65 percent of Americans experienced sleep problems. In that survey,

  • 40% of respondents were impatient with others at work.
  • 27% frequently found it hard to concentrate.
  • 20% had lower productivity than they expected.
  • 29% have fallen asleep or became very sleepy while they were at work because of sleepiness or because they have a sleep problem.
  • 12% were late to work in the past month due to sleepiness or a sleep problem.
  • 4% left work early or 2% did not go to work because they were too sleepy or because of a sleep problem.

There’s a syndrome called sleep inertia which is the cognitive impairment, disorientation, and groggy feeling we experience when we first awake from sleep. Sleep inertia can negatively impact the brain’s ability to think clearly and our ability to function effectively in performing tasks right after we wake up (Donatelle, 2009). Just think about the challenge it takes to brush your teeth when you wake up after only four or five hours of sleep.

The stages of sleep include: wakefulness, drowsiness, light sleep, and deeper sleep. It is in the deeper sleep phase where rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs. REM sleep is absolutely essential. In fact, missing REM sleep is responsible for our feeling groggy and sleep deprived (Donatelle, 2009).

Lack of sleep or difficulty in easily falling asleep, frequent arousals during sleep, or early morning awakening (all describing insomnia—a common complaint among 20 to 40 percent of Americans) can also be caused by work stressors.

“Sleeping six to eight hours is considered optimal. Sleeping less than six hours, often driven by pressure to work more, or the inability to accommodate to the odd hours of shift work, has been linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity” (Allen, 2010).

In the video “Why Sleep Matters”, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler (Director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School) says doctors in training often work “marathon shifts” of 30 consecutive hours twice a week throughout the three to seven years these doctors are in residency. When Dr. Czeisler and his colleagues surveyed 2,700 medical school interns across the U.S., they found that 1 out of 5 reported making a fatigue-related mistake that injured a patient, and 1 out of 20 interns reported making a fatigue-related mistake that resulted in the death of a patient.

Beyond the dangers inside the hospital, when the interns drive home after working these marathon shifts, their risk of getting into a motor vehicle crash goes up 168 percent! One out of five motor vehicle accidents is related to drivers who are too tired to drive. Sadly, every hour someone is killed in a drowsy, driving-related crash.

Take-Away Message

Sleep and Health

  • Studies have found that insufficient sleep increases a person’s risk of developing serious medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Lack of adequate sleep over time has been associated with a shortened lifespan.

Sleep and Mood

  • Sleep and mood are closely connected; poor or inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress, while healthy sleep can enhance well-being.
  • Chronic insomnia may increase the risk of developing a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression.

Sleep and Memory

  • Only 11 percent of American college students sleep well, and 40 percent of students feel well rested only two days per week.
  • Inadequate sleep appears to affect the brain’s ability to consolidate both factual information and procedural memories about how to do various physical tasks.
  • The most critical period of sleep for memory consolidation is in the hours immediately following a lesson.

Sleep and Judgment and Safety

  • Drowsy driving causes 1 million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
  • Just one sleepless night can impair performance as much as a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, beyond the legal limit to drive.
  • Like alcohol, sleep deprivation also affects judgment, making it harder to assess how impaired you are when you’re tired.

Making Changes at Work

  • Insufficient sleep has an impact on every part of our lives, including at work.
  • Many employees report difficulty concentrating at work or feeling that their productivity is not optimal.
  • Individuals can take personal steps and employers can make accommodations to help workers get the sleep they need.

How To Get a Good Night’s Sleep (Donatelle, 2009, Table 2.3, p. 44)

  1. Establish a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day.
  2. Evaluate your sleep environment. Is there something keeping you awake? If it’s noise, wear earplugs or use a white-noise item such as running a fan. If it’s light, try room-darkening shades.
  3. Exercise regularly. It’s hard to feel drowsy if you have been sedentary all day. Don’t exercise right before bedtime, because activity speeds up your metabolism and makes it harder to go to sleep.
  4. Limit caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine can linger in your body for up to 12 hours and cause insomnia. Although alcohol may make you drowsy at first, it interferes with the normal sleep–wake cycle.
  5. Avoid eating a heavy meal or drinking large amounts of liquid before bed.
  6. Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. If you’re unable to get to sleep in 30 minutes, get up and do something else. Read, play solitaire, or try other relaxing activities; return to bed when you feel drowsy.
  7. Nap only in the afternoon. This is when our circadian rhythms tend to make us sleepy. Don’t let naps interfere with your normal sleep schedule.
  8. Establish a relaxing nighttime ritual that puts you in the mood to sleep. Take a warm shower, relax in a comfortable chair, don your favorite robe. Doing this consistently will cue your mind and body that it’s time to wind down.

References

Allen, J.E. (2010). 7 Ways to Work Yourself to Death: Research Reveals Several Surprising Ways Your Job Could Shorten Your Life. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/working-early-death/story?id=11781365

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Harvard Medical School — Division of Sleep Medicine.

Why Sleep Matters video. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/video/sleep07_matters

Sleep and Health. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/health

Sleep and Judgment and Safety. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/judgment-safety

Sleep and Memory. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/memory

Sleep and Mood. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood

Healthy People 2020. Retrieved from http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/default.aspx

National Sleep Foundation. 2008 Sleep, Performance and the Workplace. Retrieved from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-america-polls/2008-sleep-performance-and-the-workplace

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