Let's be Serious about Sleep

Let's be Serious about Sleep

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

It's important to get the amount of sleep you need, every day, unless you absolutely can't help it due to exceptional circumstances. Do you follow such a rule? If your answer to this question is in positive, you are doing whole lot of good for your mental alertness, memory, output of physical and mental energy, regulation of the biological clocks and body's internal temperature, and perhaps, as some studies suggest, the quality of your immune function.

Healthy sleep habits also help you to be a safe driver and operator of mechanical equipment. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one hundred thousand automobile accidents a year can be blamed on drowsiness. It is as serious a problem as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Too bad, one can be charged with DUI (Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs) but not for DUD (Driving Under Drowsiness).

Maybe you can't get enough sleep because you are sick, have a severe pain problem or your sleep-wake cycle is messed up because of change in your work shift. Perhaps, you are a mother and your child didn't let you sleep all night. Such situations are unavoidable. But, many others that steal your sleep can surely be avoided.

Be on alert if you have a careless or cavalier attitude towards sleep. Do you tend to willfully neglect your need for sleep? Perhaps, you sacrifice your sleep because you love partying late hours at night, want to finish that book or watch a stack of videos you rented that evening from Blockbuster.

Too many times, we go online with the intention of just checking a couple things and end up staying on it until the wee hours of the morning. Still worse is the behavior of "too much boozing and too little snoozing," more likely to occur during the weekends and holidays or when one is on vacation.

Such behaviors are responsible for accumulation of "sleep debt." We all know what happens if we don't pay debt in time. We have to pay a "surcharge" or otherwise called penalty. The penalty is the reduction in the level of efficiency at which we are able to function. Loss of efficiency is hard to detect and easy to ignore. But, remember sleep has a most vital function to perform. All living beings must sleep. When you short yourself on sleep, you may forget about the "debt" but your body doesn't.

Some sleep experts say that we have become a nation of "sleepyheads." Obviously, they dramatize the problem to encourage us to "wake up and smell the coffee." However, a sobering statistic from the National Sleep Foundation reveals that most of us, most of the nights, sleep one hour and six minutes less than the amount we actually need.

According to the sleep experts, most of us need about eight hours of sleep. But, some of us don't pay heed to such facts and others don't really believe it. Just as some "believe" in their immortality, others believe in their "insomnotality." True, there is no such word in the dictionary but, shouldn't there be one? How else can we refer to the people who believe that the sleep deficit can't affect them? There are quite a few people who behave like that. I am sure you know some.

Sleep deficit is known to cause problems if you need to sustain your attention and maintain your focus for long periods of time. Lack of sleep also negatively affects the short-term memory, the kind we need for performing a mental task. It is also referred to as the "working memory." To perform a task completely and accurately, we are required to remember what we just said, heard or did. Sleep can affect that. Likewise, sleep deficit can also impair creativity and problem-solving ability.

It doesn't take too long for sleep deficit to affect such mental functions as attention, concentration and memory. Two nights of inadequate and disrupted sleep affect our ability to perform such simple mental tasks as adding and subtracting and balancing the checkbook. Lack of sleep is likely to make you irritable anyway, and the errors of omission and commission might add to it.

Too much sleep is not good either. If you sleep more than eight hours and still feel tired, you may have a sleep disorder. If you snore or feel sleepy even after putting in your eight hours of sleep, a visit to a sleep lab might be helpful. Holiday blues could contribute to the problem of sleeping too much or too little. Depression and anxiety impair sleep and require treatment. Don't give in too often to the temptation of keeping awake late hours for social and recreational purposes.

Deep sleep replenishes and repairs the body. Dreaming enriches our learning, memory, creativity and other aspects of our mental life. Reduction in sleep hours may still preserve your deep sleep but shorten dreaming time.

We dream about 4 to 5 times a night in a 90-minute cycle. Once it was believed that we dream for extremely short periods, perhaps seconds. Now we know that we dream in real time. For a normal sleep pattern, the first dream lasts about 10 minutes and the last dream, the one closer to the morning, lasts about 30 to 50 minutes.

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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