Everyone pays a steep price for sleep deprivation

Editor’s note: Due to a production error, the print version of this column which appeared in the March 15, 2017 edition of The Press included three lines from the previous week’s column. We regret the error.

Sleep. Wonderous, restorative, dream-filled sleep. I’m one of those people who would not hesitate to post a sign saying: “Interrupt my sleep, and I’ll interrupt your breathing.”

Jokes aside, sleep – or lack of it – is a serious matter. I am not the only one who thinks sleep deprivation is a problem. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last year that more than one-third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. We are not talking about the occasional sleepless night or week.

Are you getting enough sleep? Is your spouse? your kids? your boss? your employees? the driver next to you on I-90?

The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends the following amount of sleep across age ranges: newborns – 16–18 hours a day; preschool-aged children – 11–12 hours a day; school-aged children – at least 10 hours a day; teens – 9–10 hours a day; adults (including the elderly) – 7–8 hours a day.

I’m concerned, when we dig deeper, we might find that the ratio of those who are sleep-deprived increases among adults, and could be as significant, even worse, among teens and young adults which were not measured as part of the study CDC conducted. Wayne H. Giles, MD, MS, director, Division of Population Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the CDC, says, “Sufficient sleep is not a luxury — it is a necessity — and should be thought of as a vital sign of good health.”

There is evidence we pay a high price if we do not get enough sleep. The docs who study the issue say lack of sleep contributes to weight gain and obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and depression or frequent mental distress. A British study suggested that those who cut sleep from seven to five hours a night doubled their risk of death, particularly from cardiovascular disease. It leads to early signs of aging, can negatively impact sex drive, decrease ability to concentrate and learn, and increase forgetfulness and poor judgment.

Dr. Phil Gehrman, an assistant professor and sleep expert at the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, says, “Studies show that over time, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, begin to feel that they’ve adapted to that sleep deprivation – they’ve gotten used to it.”

Gehrman continues, “But if you look at how they actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill. So there’s a point in sleep deprivation when we lose touch with how impaired we are.”

People who are sleep-deprived are dangerous. Think I am overstating my point? According to an article posted on WebMD, “sleep deprivation was a factor in some of the biggest disasters in recent history: the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill, the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, and others.”

They cause accidents at work, injuring themselves or others. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that nearly 900 people were killed by drowsy drivers in 2014.  A December 2016 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety stated that missing an hour or two of sleep can double the risk of crashing, and that driving after sleeping five hours or less is just as dangerous as driving drunk. As of the release date of the report, there had been 2,719 traffic crashes involving driver fatigue in Ohio during 2016, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Eighteen of them were fatal and 1,328 involved injuries. However, AAA, the CDC and others agree the numbers are tremendously under-reported partly because it is not always easy for investigators to prove a driver fell asleep at the wheel.

This is not meant to scare you. It is meant to encourage you to get your sleep and make sure those you care about do, too. Please, do not wear sleep deprivation as some kind of badge of honor. It is not.

I am keenly aware that sleep can be evasive. I used to be one of those sleep-deprived people. My head just would not stop working long enough to give my brain and body the rest it needed. Retirement cured my sleepless nights. However, my doctor provided me a few strategies that really helped while I was still working. I bet yours can, too.

Mitt Romney, the former governor and GOP presidential candidate, describes a beautiful, peaceful image of a baby drifting off to sleep nestled in the arms of its mother and father and wrapped in their love. I wish you sleep like that. Sweet dreams.


Print this story