©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
The sound of a disembodied voice drifted through my Bluetooth: “I’m always tired. Is this what I have to look forward to as I grow older?"
The words leaped from the e-mail: “The host of a TV program yesterday said that on any given night some 30 to 40 million Americans have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or wake earlier than they would like and cannot get back to sleep. I’m one of them!”
The couple who came up to me at the break, obviously distraught, were talking over each other: “He’s (she’s) irritable from the moment of awakening until it’s time to turn out the light. Sheesh. It’s no fun anymore.”
A variety of factors likely impact the lives of these individuals. One of those may be sleep deprivation. Consequently, one of my first questions to comments such as these is: “Does your brain get sufficient sleep in every 24-hour period or is it sleep deprived?”
Emerging research has shown that not only are many individuals sleep deprived but also has pointed to potentially lethal consequences to both brain and body from lack of quality sleep. Such as what, beyond just feeling tired, you may ask? Following are a baker's dozen:
- Appears independently associated with weight gain, particularly in younger age groups and is associated with obesity in a large longitudinally-monitored United States sample.
- May lead to type 2 diabetes by influencing the way the body processes glucose, the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel.
- Causes the brain to work harder (although it tends to accomplish less) and portions of the brain's language centers may actually shut down.
- Increases the time the brain requires to process and utilize information related to athletic skills, which can result in difficulty with mental focus, a decrease in reaction time, and impaired coordination.
- Can cause an elevation in blood pressure—and in those who have existing hypertension, even one night of inadequate sleep can cause elevated blood pressure throughout the following day.
- Tends to trigger irritability, declining levels of optimism, increased feelings of sadness and anger, along with increased anxiety and depression, while chronic sleep deprivation may lead to long-term mood disorders.
- Weakens the immune system, increasing the risk of illness (e.g., the number of white blood cells within the body decreases, as does the activity of the remaining white blood cells; the amount of growth hormone produced decreases).
- Can trigger an increased use of alcohol, which may act as a mild sedative initially but it is only temporary and can be followed by brain stimulation that can cause sleep problems later during the night.
- Tends to make learning more difficult as the brain experiences problems with memory, creativity and logical thinking skills; prolonged sleep deprivation can result in hallucinations.
- Contributes to a greater than twofold higher risk of sustaining an occupational injury.
- Responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities—conservative estimates by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for consequences of drowsy driving.
- Can actually result in the death of brain cells.
- Has been associated with lower life expectancy (perhaps due to an acceleration in the rate of developing symptoms of aging).
I could go on, but you get the idea. None of these negative consequences appeal to me!
So how much sleep does your brain need? According to Jim Horne PhD, director of the sleep research laboratory at Loughborough University in England, it's simple and straight-forward: the amount of sleep you require is what you need not to be sleepy in the daytime.
Several of my questioners asked: "What three things do you do to ensure you get a good night's sleep and avoid sleep deprivation?"
That was easy to answer. Here are three items in my sleep formula:
- Follow the old adage to eat like a king for breakfast, like a princess for lunch, and like a pauper in the evening. Eating too much and/or too close to bedtime can decrease one’s quality of sleep to say nothing of sending the calories to your “waist.”
- Get in a fifteen-minute walk sometime during the day and aim for consistent going-to-bed and getting-up times. Having no muscle tissue itself, the brain is dependent on the body getting sufficient physical exercise. The brain also tends to function most effectively with a balanced routine for sleep.
- Take a rounded teaspoon of green superfood in water just before climbing into bed and laying your head on your favorite pillow. That green stuff helps me fall asleep and stay asleep—to say nothing of the repair work that this salad of micronutrients is accomplishing in my brain and immune system while I’m blissfully sawing logs.
Try my sleep formula or develop one that works for you. Your brain and immune system will likely appreciate your efforts. You can find additional information on my website under Brain References, Care of the Brain, Sleep and Your Brain.
Now, all you need to do is figure out how much sleep you require in order not to be sleepy in the daytime....