If you’ve been having one too many late nights at the office, followed by errands, tending to matters at home, and ultimately a restless sleep, you’re not alone—and that’s not a good thing. According to the latest information gathered from the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Health Index™, which monitors the sleep behaviors of Americans, we’re simply not getting enough shut-eye, and it’s wreaking havoc on our health.
The Index found that at least once a week, 45% of Americans maintain that poor sleep is the reason behind their inability to effectively engage in daily activities. The Foundation recommends that adults aged 18-64 get 7-9 hours of sleep per day, while older adults (65+) should receive 7-8 hours. But ask yourself: are you really getting that much sleep?
Too much work contributing to lack of sleep
Experts note that our work hours are increasing considerably. In the industrialized world, Americans are said to work more than people in others countries like France, Germany and Norway. We’ve even surpassed Japan—which has become known for its devotion to work—when it comes to putting in longer hours. And it doesn’t stop there; Americans also retire later than people living in these other countries and take less vacation time too. In sum, we’re working more and sleeping less.
Such sleep deprivation undermines our health on many levels. At a minimum, we’re left feeling unrefreshed upon waking, constantly craving more sleep throughout the day. We nod off at our desks and sometimes even in meetings. Collectively, we’re often groggy and somewhat grumpy—but that’s just the beginning. Kristen Knutson, National Sleep Foundation Poll Fellow, explains that not getting enough sleep essentially destroys health and the ability to work at optimal levels. She says the immune system can be weakened and mood disorders may even develop.
The many ways sleep deprivation is ruining work performance and health
From a work standpoint, sleep deprivation diminishes productivity, which is ironic when you consider that most people work late in an effort to generate greater amounts of high-quality work. However, since sleep allows you to store memories and boost recall, lack of it can lead to brain deterioration, severe forgetfulness and even permanent cognitive problems.
So serious is sleep deprivation that about 41% of people admit to falling asleep while driving—an act taken just as seriously as driving while intoxicated. “Sleepiness decreases awareness, slows reaction time, and impairs judgement, just like drugs or alcohol,” says AAA Foundation President Peter Kissinger. Studies have found that response time is up to 50% lower among sleep-deprived people. Driving off the road and injuring or accidentally killing someone else (or ourselves) is a scary possibility.
Lack of sleep can also impair your ability to make wise eating decisions, leading to weight gain. Getting six or less hours of sleep is linked to packing on pounds, as researchers discovered that people who get this amount of sleep are more prone to giving into food temptations and eating larger portions.
Aside from weight gain, a person not getting enough snooze time is also more subject to developing diabetes, since lack of sleep throws the body off to the point of not producing enough insulin. Unfortunately, the list goes on. Studies have linked sleep deprivation to osteoporosis, heart problems, and cancer risks. Again, six is the key number; those regularly getting six or less hours of sleep have been proven more likely to be experience breast cancer resurgences. This amount of sleep is also linked to a 48% increase in the risk of developing or dying from heart disease.
To get more sleep, try to change the things you can easily control. Resist the urge to respond to emails during all hours of the night, say “no” from time to time when friends want to stay out late, and refrain from turning on the television if you wake up in the middle of the night. These are just a few, immediate but powerful changes you can make if you want sleep for longer periods of time.