Written by Chantal Hildebrand and Rachel Blythe
It’s that time of the year again…the time where stress is high and people are struggling to get everything complete before the potential of summer, family vacation, or maybe just the accumulation of enough vacation days to actually take that true holiday you have been dreaming about since December. So how do you make ends meet? There are not enough hours in the day to finish everything you need to do. You know that you should be getting at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night, but you just need to finish writing this last page of a paper or draft a couple more emails. So maybe you work through the night a couple times, you’ll catch up on your sleep over your upcoming holiday, right? Wait… what holiday?
With the average American recorded as getting 6.8 hours of sleep per night, this number seems a bit too good to be true. The reality is that young professionals between the ages of 18-24 get less than the recommended hours of sleep; however, it is unclear how much less sleep people are truly getting. Furthermore, it depends on how we define sleep. Does this 6.8 hours measure quality sleep – true REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when you’re passed out displaying a steady stream of drool or with the accompanying symphony of snores (whichever is your preference)? Or does this figure include all sleep, whether REM or those evening power naps we allocate to ourselves when under extreme pressure? It may be reasonable to assume that our sleep patterns often do not meet the minimum requirement for healthy living.
As demonstrated in a study conducted by Virgin Impulse Institute, 76% of the U.S. workforce is tired most weekdays. An additional study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine highlights that “the cost of fatigue-related productivity is estimated at $1,967 per employee annually.” It is clear that lack of sleep is a recognized hazard, but it’s basically accepted as the norm in American society.
In the current fast-pace of American society, lack of sleep is almost congratulated as a badge of honor. Unsurprisingly, lack of sleep is associated with a variation of negative health impacts ranging from a decrease in cognitive functioning to higher risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. However, even with this knowledge a large population in America still does not take getting enough sleep seriously.
As a little reminder of the impact of sleep deprivation on one’s health and well-being, please watch this short video entitled, “What if you stopped sleeping”:
So let’s break it down. Why are we not getting enough sleep?
…Pressure at work?
With the amount of pressure and stress that the average American is exposed to on a daily basis, it shouldn’t be much of a shock that quality sleep is rare. Sleep and stress are closely correlated. Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to higher levels of stress, and simultaneously, increased stress directly impacts one’s ability to sleep, creating a vicious cycle that is not easily broken.
Ever heard of someone falling asleep in response to stress and anxiety? That response can be categorized as a type of “learned helplessness.” According to this article in The Atlantic, “if, at a very early stage in development, a living thing comes to understand that it is helpless in the face of the world’s forces, it will continue to perceive a lack of control, and therefore actually become helpless, no matter if the context changes.”
But wait! It turns out that the person isn’t helpless per se, but rather he or she is sleeping in order to deal with the stress. Because sleep allows us to better process and remember our experiences, going to sleep following a stressful event will essentially “protect” that memory and response.
Think about how children are always napping. They’re in the midst of constantly learning from this big world around them, not to mention they have a small,“short-term memory storage space.” Thus to consolidate their memories for future use, they have to nap more.
It is unrealistic to assume that every American will be able to get their full 8 hours of sleep every night (even including daytime naps); however, there are some easy steps we can all take to try to manage our stress and sleep.
Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic for getting a more restful sleep:
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule…even on non-work days
- Exercise during the day (but no closer than three hours to bedtime)
- Eat lighter evening meals
- Be wary of consuming caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine too close to bed
- Have a relaxing bedtime ritual
- Avoid long daytime naps
And here are some extra tips for good measure:
- If you’re stressed out or still have some energy to dispel before bed, try journaling
- Turn off electronics at least an hour before you plan to sleep
- And most importantly, remember that whatever work you’re doing late at night is not worth your health and can probably wait until the morning
First photo from Funny People sleeping in Library at http://xaxor.com/funny-pics/21273-funny-people-sleeping-in-the-library.html
Second picture from “15 Funny Sleeping Positions” from http://www.oddee.com/item_96584.aspx