The extreme dangers of sleep deprivation
What do you think of when you hear the words sleep deprivation? One hour of sleep per night? Two hours? Three?
I wish you were right, but those numbers aren’t even close. The negative effects of getting too little sleep can start at SEVEN hours of sleep per night——and they get steadily worse with each sleepless hour that ticks by.
That’s right: That means that the vast majority of Americans are suffering from sleep deprivation——and most of them don’t even know it.
But they’re in for rude awakening because as it turns out…
Too little sleep can be a nightmare
for your health
Dr. David Dinges, chief of the division of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, conducted an extensive sleep study. He and his team of researchers restricted patients’ sleep for two weeks, during which time they conducted a daily psychomotor vigilance test that consisted of pushing a button when a signal appeared on a screen.
Sounds simple enough——but not for the sleep deprived.
The participants who got between four and six hours of sleep per night experienced a steady decline each day. As the days went by, their working memory, accuracy, and speed plummeted. About a quarter of the participants began to fall asleep at the computer just one week into the study.
At the end of two weeks, they were functioning at about the same capacity as someone who had just pulled and all-nighter. (When it comes to performance, that’s the equivalent of being legally drunk.)
Think about it: Even a two-second delay can be devastating in the real world——especially when you’re driving or operating machinery——or operating on human beings, for that matter.
Six hours per night is clearly insufficient. Let’s see if seven is any better.
Are you operating at peak performance?
In a similar experiment, Gregory Belenky, a psychiatrist at the Sleep and Performance Research Centre at Washington State University in Spokane, evaluated patients who got seven hours of sleep per night.
For three days, performance levels slowly decreased, then they leveled out at an impaired performance rate. The worst part about it was that the people were so used to operating at this sup-optimal level that they didn’t realize they weren’t operating at peak performance. This had become the new “norm” for them.
That’s just what can happen to your motor skills. And whereas that can be a scary and dangerous proposition, it’s not the worst of your worries——not by a long shot.
While you’re asleep, your body may be resting, but your brain is hard at work repairing and regenerating your cells. This activity is necessary for all aspects of good health——and helps to explain why not getting enough sleep can be a factor in everything from heart disease, memory loss, and impaired immunity, to mood swings, depression, and diabetes.
Don’t get tangled in the worldwide, self-imposed
sleep deprivation epidemic
Whether it’s from night work, social events, or spending too much time in front of the boob tube or the World Wide Web (and yes, people really do get tangled up in that thing)——people just don’t want to go to sleep. (It reminds me of my son when he was little.)
If you’re one of those people, I can’t do much to help you. The reality is that limiting your sleep is killing you——one lost minute at a time. If that doesn’t make you hit the sack, I don’t know what will.
But what about the people who want to get their fair share of shut-eye… but can’t?
If that’s you, I can help.
A little help for a little shut-eye
For starters, you need to set yourself up for success. A few minor changes in your nighttime routine could make a major difference in the quality of your sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark. Cool air helps you breathe better, and darkness allows your body to produce melatonin.
- Remove any distractions, like the television, laptop computer, or even books.
- Don’t eat, drink, or exercise late at night.
- Stop stressing out. Anxiety, worry, and stress are the most notorious sleep robbers around.
Beyond that, there are a number of natural sleep aids that play a major role in allowing you to experience the deep, restorative sleep you’ve been missing out on.
The key to a good night’s sleep
One of the main keys to good sleep is the balance of melotonin and serotonin levels. Serotonin has a close relationship to your body’s sleep/wake cycle. Your body mainly produces serotonin during the day while you are active. Serotonin powers the pineal gland, which in turn produces melatonin, which is produced while you’re sleeping (and is spurred on by darkness). Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone” because it’s responsible for the sleep/wake cycle.
Boosting your serotonin levels will in turn boost melatonin levels and will help get your hormones——and your sleep——back on track.
To boost your serotonin levels, you’ll want to increase your intake of vitamin B3 (also called niacin), since vitamin B3 is necessary for the production of serotonin. If you enjoy fish, mackerel contains tons of vitamin B3. If not, consider adding a B3 supplement to your regimen.
For additional help falling asleep, consider increasing your intake of the amino acid, L-tryptophan. This is the nutrient found in turkey that’s responsible for the famous post-Thanksgiving sleepiness. Foods that are high in L-tryptophan include eggs, dairy, seafood, meat, poultry, beans, and whole grains. You can also take a capsule of 5-HTP in the morning on an empty stomach.
One final nutrient to consider is the amino acid, L-theanine. This nutrient is found in large quantities in green tea, and is why green tea produces calmness even though it has moderate amounts of caffeine. L-theanine induces subtle changes in biochemistry that are comparable to a hot bath or light massage, and it’s used as a mental and physical relaxant that does not induce drowsiness.
The best ways to get enough L-theanine include drinking green tea and supplementing at bedtime and throughout the day as needed.