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Continuously choosing activities, such as binge-watching a television show, oversleep at night is more dangerous than one would think. Sleep deprivation has significant, negative long and short-term effects on the body and mind. However, this condition is easily preventable.

Sleep is essential for the human body to function. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep per night in order for adults to cycle through the four stages of sleep. The first three stages, also known as non-REM sleep, last approximately 90 minutes. During non-REM sleep, muscles relax, brain waves slow down, heart rate and respirations decrease, eye movement stops and the body undergoes microscopic repairs. The fourth stage of sleep is called rapid eye movement (REM). Intervals of brain activity allow memory consolidation, emotion processing and dreams to take place within this stage of sleep. The duration of a complete sleep cycle can vary between individuals, but the sequence repeats until the sleeping person wakes up.

With the increased use of technology over the past century, sleep deprivation has gradually become a problem in the United States. In a TedEd video, Claudia Aguirre shared that roughly 30% of adults receive less than seven hours of sleep per night. This statistic is congruent with the findings of Harvard medical writer Julie Corliss, who discovered that nearly one-third of American adults sleep less than six hours each night.

The implications of chronic sleep loss can be particularly harmful to a person’s overall health. Aguirre also stated in her TedEd video that sleep deprivation impairs cognition by limiting the eye’s ability to focus, shortening a person’s attention span and decreasing concentration and memory retention. Cognitive impairment to this degree is enough to cause an increase in absentminded mistakes, forgetfulness, and poor academic performance.

Corliss describes a more dangerous effect of inadequate sleep called a “microsleep.” If you have ever fallen asleep for a couple of seconds and abruptly awoken while sitting in class, you have encountered a microsleep. While it feels like one heavy blink, it can last for up to 15 seconds. 

“During a microsleep, your brain does not respond to noise or other sensory inputs, and you don't react to things happening around you. Because people are poor judges of when microsleeps will occur (and are equally poor at preventing them), they're a major factor in many motor vehicle accidents.” (Corliss)

Drowsy driving threatens the safety of the driver, their passengers and anyone else on the road. Experiencing a microsleep while operating a vehicle could have fatal consequences. Corliss referred to the National Department of Transportation, which estimated that drowsy driving accounts for 41,550 injuries annually.

Long-term sleep deprivation stresses physiological and psychological health. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reported that sleep deprivation increases the risk of acquiring chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Additionally, the U.S. Institute of Medicine Committee on Sleep Medicine and Researchmentioned excess stress, depression and anxiety. The amount of sleep deprivation determines the severity of the symptoms.

Kerry Howard’s research with rats at Seton Hall University measured the length of time that the symptoms of sleep deprivation remained after discontinuing sleep restrictions. The study revealed that the negative effects continued for up to four weeks after adequate sleep was allowed. Howard implied that the loss in performance could be permanent for humans. 

There are a few ways to combat sleep loss. On “Good Morning America,” sleep expert and author Dr. Matthew Walker suggested refraining from alcohol consumption and electronic device usage at least one hour before bed to fall asleep as fast as possible. To optimize sleep quality, Dr. Walker recommended a cold room, adequate stretching and maintaining a bedtime routine. Even though this routine would include waking up at the same time every morning, it is the key to feeling well-rested and keeping the immune system healthy.

Sleep should be a top priority for individuals who plan to carry out activities of daily living effectively. Failure to acquire at least seven hours of sleep will increase the risk of various chronic diseases and decrease cognitive function. With wise time management and a decent amount of self-discipline, you can rest assured that sleep is not a waste of time. 

 

Callie Punzo

Bibliography

Aguirre, Claudia. “What Would Happen If You Didn't Sleep?” TED, TED-Ed, 2015, ed.ted.com/lessons/what-would-happen-if-you-didn-t-sleep-claudia-aguirre#review

“Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Aug. 2019, www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep

Colten, Harvey R. “Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders.” Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/

Corliss, Julie. “The Health Hazards of Insufficient Sleep.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, 14 July 2017, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-hazards-of-insufficient-sleep

“Healthy Sleep Habits Can Put You on the Right Path for 2020.” Good Morning America, ABC News Internet Ventures, 11 Jan. 2020, www.goodmorningamerica.com/wellness/video/healthy-sleep-habits-put-path-2020-68214812

Howard, Kerry A., and Amy Silvestri Hunter. “Immediate and Long-Lasting Cognitive Consequences of Adolescent Chronic Sleep Restriction.” Behavioral Neuroscience, vol. 133, no. 5, 2019, pp. 461–466., doi:10.1037/bne0000312. 

“Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency

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