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Sleep Deprivation Can Affect Health

January 15, 2016

“Mom, your feet shook!” my 12-year-old daughter said with a laugh.

“What was that, anyway?” I asked groggily with wide-open eyes.

She had dropped a heavy book on the wood floor near me to awaken me. The loud thump certainly worked. I’m lucky my family didn’t need a defibrillator because I nearly had a heart attack.

I had fallen asleep on the sofa while watching a movie with my daughter one weekend afternoon. As she sat in the easy chair next to me, I reclined on the couch, tucked in with a cozy blanket. She wanted my full attention on the movie and kept checking on me.

The movie told the story of animated sheep on a rescue mission to find the farmer. After I counted the three main sheep characters, I fell asleep.

What did she expect? I was counting sheep.

For me, taking a nap during the day may be a welcome break, but it is not conducive to me sleeping well at night. So I guess my daughter did me a favor by ensuring my evening slumber. She could have been gentler in her approach, though.

Adequate sleep is critical for our health, and many people shortchange themselves due to a busy schedule or trouble falling or staying asleep.

Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per day, teens need nine to 10 hours, and school-aged children need 10 or more hours of sleep, according to the guidelines from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

If you find yourself staring at the ceiling, wandering around your home or checking your alarm clock during the night, you are not alone. An estimated 50 million to 70 million U.S. adults experience sleep problems.

All this sleep deprivation can have immediate and long-term health effects. As we all know, being short on sleep affects our ability to concentrate and do our best work. We are not as productive when we are short on sleep.

In my research for this article, I was most surprised to see the number of people in the U.S. who reported falling asleep while driving. Results of a 2009 survey of more than 74,000 people in 12 states showed some startling statistics about the effects of sleep deprivation.

In the month previous to the survey, 7.2 percent of respondents ages 25 to 35 reported falling asleep at least once while driving. Between 2 and 5.7 percent of other age groups also had fallen asleep at least once while driving during the month previous to the survey.

Further, about 44 percent of the survey respondents ages 18 to 25 had fallen asleep unintentionally during the day at least once in the month previous to the survey. At least one-third of other age groups also had nodded off during the day unintentionally during the previous month.

Researchers have shown that long-term sleep deprivation can promote chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Try to practice good “sleep hygiene,” the technical term for practices that promote regular sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following:

  • Have a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
  • Be sure your room is quiet, dark and at an appropriate temperature. Be sure your bed is comfortable.
  • Avoid using electronic gadgets, such as phones and computers, before sleeping.
  • Do not have a large meal before bed.
  • Avoid caffeinated foods and beverages close to bedtime.
  • Do not smoke or use other nicotine-containing products close to bedtime.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University