Author: Lissa Coffey is a relationship expert, author and broadcast journalist. She writes for eight websites, including CoffeyTalk.com, WhatsYourDosha.com and the Better Sleep Council’s site, BetterSleep.org. A BSC spokeswoman, she stars in several videos that offer sleep and mattress-shopping tips for consumers.
Tired? Not getting enough sleep? You’re not the only one. A survey in Working Mother magazine found that 77% of mothers don’t get the rest they need. Another survey, this one by Men’s Health magazine, showed that 62% of respondents get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night.
But what does this mean? Sure, we’re walking around yawning a lot, but there’s a higher price we’re paying. Let’s look at how a lack of adequate sleep affects us individually, in the workplace and throughout the broader society. Along the way, I’ll give you tips for improving your sleep.
Just as it needs air, water and food, the body needs sleep to function. During sleep, the body has the opportunity to restore and heal itself; meanwhile, the brain makes new connections and retains memories. Lack of rest can interfere with the body’s internal systems and greatly lower your quality of life. Many studies show that sleeping for fewer than six to eight hours a night increases the risk of early death by more than 10%.
Sleep deprivation negatively affects your mental abilities and your emotional state, as well. Without sleep, you become more impatient and prone to mood swings. If a lack of sleep continues over a long period of time, you may become depressed, even paranoid and may start hallucinating.
Lack of sleep also compromises the immune system. During sleep, your immune system produces infection-fighting substances called cytokines that protect the body. Going without adequate rest prevents this production from happening so your body doesn’t have the energy or resources it needs to fend off illnesses.
We all know that eating too much and not exercising enough can lead to weight gain, even obesity. Did you know sleep deprivation is another risk factor? Rest helps regulate our hormones, including the hormone that tells us when we’re hungry and when we’ve had enough to eat. Without enough sleep, the brain increases the appetite stimulant. This explains why we get the munchies late at night. Plus, if we’re not sleeping enough, we’re probably feeling too tired to exercise. It’s a double whammy.
What to do?
- Prioritize sleep. Set an alarm for 15 minutes before the time you want to be in bed. Often, we’re so busy working, helping the kids, scrolling our social media feeds or watching TV that we’re not aware of the time. If you want to be in bed at 10 p.m., set your alarm for 9:45 p.m. That will give you plenty of time to get yourself ready for bed—and ready for sleep.
- Invest in sleep. If you’ve had your mattress for more than seven years, it’s time for a new one. Do your research and find the best mattress for your budget. If you haven’t shopped for a mattress in a while, you’ll be impressed by all the new bed technologies and features available. Pillows should be replaced every two years. Make sure your bed linens are soft and comfortable and that your room is cool and dark.
Often, we have so much work to do that we sacrifice shut eye in order to get it all done. The big problem with that method is a lack of sleep impairs our work performance, which ruins any perceived benefit of working additional hours. A study from Rand Europe, a research institute based in Cambridge, England, says that sleep deprivation is a costly problem for the world’s economy. In the United States, for example, 1.2 million workdays are lost each year due to insufficient sleep. The cost to businesses: a hefty $411 billion.
Those sleepy employees who do show up for work have more difficulty comprehending information and communicating with others in a fast-paced environment. Their creativity suffers and they are less able to solve problems. And, because they are more irritable and stressed, their workplace relationships weaken, too.
Unfortunately, the effects of sleep deprivation in the workforce can be disastrous—the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Challenger space shuttle disaster all have been traced, in part, to sleepiness.
What to do?
- Get outside. Office lighting often is harsh and not suited to our circadian rhythms. Each day, make sure you spend some time outdoors in sunlight to help keep your body clock in tune with nature.
- Keep to a schedule. If you’re the boss, make sure everyone goes home at a reasonable time and don’t expect employees to be “on call” via email late into the night. Employees who stay late at the office or keep working deep into the night from home will be less productive the next day.
Lack of sleep can put us in dangerous situations. A report from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a program run by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that one in 20 people doze off while driving at least once a month. And 37% of adult drivers say they have fallen asleep at the wheel at least once. In fact, 20% of all traffic accidents are caused by drowsy driving. Clearly, this is a problem that affects all of us as we take to the roads along with those fatigued drivers.
The Traffic Research Center says that sleep deprivation influences driving performance by slowing reaction times, decreasing concentration, and diminishing our mental and psychomotor skills. One study showed that sleep-deprived drivers performed just as poorly on hand-eye coordination tests as drivers with a 0.05 blood alcohol level.
What to do?
- Sleep well the night before a long drive. Start a trip in the early morning after a good night’s sleep.
- Limit drive times. The longer you drive, the more your driving performance is impaired and the higher your risk of an accident. On lengthy trips, take breaks to walk around, eat and change drivers. Pull over and nap if you feel sleepy.
- Stay alert. And here’s one interesting way to do it. When actor Anson Williams had a problem with drowsy driving, his uncle—who just happened to be Dr. Henry Heimlich, the inventor of the Heimlich maneuver—suggested keeping a lemon in the car and biting into it when Williams felt sleepy. Apparently, the sour taste on the tongue alerts the brain to wake up as the body’s natural adrenalin kicks in. Because the lemon trick worked so well for him, Williams worked with a business partner to develop the Alert Drops citrus spray, which you spritz on your tongue. In 2016, the product earned the City of Angels Award for a breakthrough product that benefits society.