The Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown. The crash that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan last year. They all have something in common.
They were caused by sleep deprivation.
The first mate of the Valdez had been awake for 18 hours before the accident. The Three Mile Island meltdown happened on the night shift, when sleep-deprived workers failed to notice an increase in the reactor’s core temperature until it was too late. The driver of the Wal-Mart truck that hit Morgan’s van hadn’t slept for 24 hours.
And the risks aren’t confined to super-tanker pilots, nuclear plant engineers, or long-distance truck drivers. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 47 million Americans are sleep deprived. And that means they are at risk for stroke, obesity, diabetes, depression, memory loss, cancer, heart disease, and premature death.
Concerns about health have been focused on diet and exercise. But the latest research suggests sleep may be just as important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insufficient sleep is an “Unmet Public Health Problem” and a “Public Health Epidemic.”
Today we’ll show you how to find out if you’re sleep deprived. And we’ll give you some tips on how to get a good night’s sleep.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Getting six hours of sleep per night used to make me feel like a slacker. I had friends who got by with four hours. And they made getting less sleep sound like a badge of honor. I finally decided to start listening to my body. And discovered I needed eight.
How much sleep do you need? Maybe more than you think. Check out the chart below:
Despite these recommendations, Americans go to bed when they want to. And get up when they have to. The average American logs just 6.5 hours per night during the work week. You can blame busy schedules, 24/7 access to the Internet, or late-night TV. But sleep is way down on the list of most people’s priorities.
You can train yourself to sleep less. But you cannot train yourself to need less sleep. And when you don’t get what you need, you gradually accumulate what’s known as a “sleep deficit.” As a result, you can’t function as well as you should.
Maybe you think you’re getting enough sleep. You can find out for sure with the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT).
The creator of the MSLT, Dr. William Dement, did his testing in a laboratory. But you can do it at home. All you need is a metal spoon and a cookie sheet.
In the late afternoon, get into your pajamas (or whatever you wear to bed). Draw the shades and turn off the lights. Hang your hand over the edge of your bed and lightly hold the spoon over the cookie sheet on the floor. Check the time, relax, and allow yourself to fall asleep. When you fall asleep, you’ll drop the spoon. The noise it makes when it hits the cookie sheet will wake you up. Note the time and how many minutes it took you to fall asleep. That is your sleep latency number.
0-5 minutes means you have a severe sleep deficit.
5-10 minutes means you’re borderline.
10-15 minutes indicates a manageable sleep deficit.
15-20 minutes means you’re well-rested.
If your number is between one and 10, you are endangering your health. Between 10 and 15? You have a bit of catching up to do. Between 15 and 20?
Congratulations! You’re physically, mentally, and emotionally ready for anything the day throws at you.
The “Z” Shortage
Forty million people have chronic sleep disorders. Twenty-nine percent of adults report getting an average of six hours of sleep or less per night. Here are 10 signs you’re not getting enough sleep:
You get drowsy while driving. Drowsiness is a precursor to a microsleep. A microsleep might last two seconds. But two seconds of inattention at 60 miles per hour can send you into another lane or completely off the road. Two hundred and fifty thousand drivers fall asleep at the wheel every day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This causes more than 100,000 crashes, 1,550 deaths, and 40,000 injuries every year.
You frequently get sick. A sleep deficit can compromise your immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic. And when your immune system is weakened, your body is unable to fight off disease.
You’ve gained weight. A lack of sleep has been linked to an increase in body mass index (BMI). The culprits may be the hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin signals to your brain it’s time to eat. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body makes more of it. Leptin, on the other hand, signals to your brain you’re full. When you don’t get enough sleep, your leptin levels decrease. Put them together, and what have you got? Excess poundage.
You’ve become more forgetful. New research has confirmed deep sleep is critical for the creation of new synapses (connections) in the brain. And new synapses are necessary for memory formation.
You’re prone to migraines. Insufficient REM sleep (see below) has been shown to affect key protein levels that suppress and trigger chronic pain.
Your skin looks lousy. You’ve heard of “beauty sleep,” right? Well, it’s no myth. A recent study confirms inadequate sleep affects the skin’s ability to repair itself and accelerates the visible signs of aging.
You snore. You may suffer from sleep apnea. This is a serious disorder. Breathing actually stops and starts repeatedly during the night. Many people with sleep apnea are unaware they have it. Loud snoring is one symptom. Feeling tired after a full night’s sleep is another. See your doctor. Get tested. It could save your life.
You’re cranky. Any little thing can set you off. Mood swings, depression, and anxiety go hand in hand with sleep deprivation.
You feel stupid. Sleep deprivation affects your short- and long-term memory. It interferes with your decision-making ability. In fact, every cognitive function deteriorates when you don’t get enough sleep.
You find yourself falling asleep unintentionally during the day. This is a pretty obvious indication of a serious sleep deficit.
Inside Your Head
Scientists used to think sleep was simply the brain shutting down for the night. It wasn’t until the invention of the electroencephalograph (EEG) that they discovered what really happens. We now know sleep is divided into five stages with distinctly different brain wave patterns:
During the night, your body cycles between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-REM) sleep. Both are important.
During the deep stages of NREM sleep, your body repairs itself. Growth hormone is secreted, building bone and muscle. Your immune system is strengthened. And your lungs and heart catch a break. Blood pressure goes down. Breathing and heart rates decline.
REM sleep is when you dream. It is thought to improve the memory because it stimulates parts of the brain used in learning. REM sleep is also associated with an increased production of proteins and increased brain plasticity.
Getting a good night’s sleep should be a priority for everyone. But that’s easier said than done. If you have trouble sleeping, consider the following tips and tricks:
Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time. And try to keep to it… even on weekends. An irregular sleep schedule affects your circadian rhythm (body clock) and can cause symptoms similar to jet lag.
Get a good mattress. You spend one-third of your life in bed, so make it as comfortable as possible. If you are a member of the Wealth Builders Club, you can read our mattress buying research here. If you would like information about joining the club, please click here.
Log off. The blue rays emitted from your laptop and iPad suppress melatonin production. Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates your sleep cycle. So, shut down your electronic devices several hours before going to bed. If you can’t do that, use a blue-light filter or blue-light blocking glasses.
Avoid multitasking. Don’t bring work to bed. Your bedroom should be a place of relaxation. Restrict your activities there to sleep and sex.
Don’t nap. If you have insomnia, napping during the day can make it worse. If you have to nap, do it for no more than half an hour… and never after dinner.
Eat earlier. Try for three hours between finishing dinner and going to bed.
Avoid having a nightcap. While a drink just before bedtime can make you feel drowsy, it has a rebound effect that can disturb your sleep.
Go easy on the caffeine. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. How long it stays in your body depends on your efficiency in metabolizing it. If coffee keeps you awake at night (you know who you are), have your last cup at lunch.
Quit smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant that disrupts sleep. If you can’t quit, try taking your last puff early in the evening.
Restrict your liquid intake. If you drink too much before bedtime, you’ll keep waking up to go to the bathroom.
Try melatonin. For occasional sleeplessness or to get back on your sleep schedule after a late night, try sublingual melatonin tablets. I get drowsy 20 minutes after putting one under my tongue.
Deep breathing. Take deep, slow breaths. Count each breath to keep your mind from wandering to your worry list. If you lose track (you will), start again at one… I rarely get beyond 50 before I zonk out.
Exercise. It’s easier to fall asleep if you’re mentally and physically tired. So, adopt a daily exercise routine. But don’t exercise at night because it can amp you up instead of making you sleepy.
Chill out. Some studies suggest the optimal room temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees. If that’s not practical for you, consider the ChiliPad. It’s a mattress pad filled with tiny silicone tubes. The temperature is adjustable from 55 to 110 degrees. There is even a dual-zone model for partners who like different bed temperatures.