Lack of Sleep – a Trivial Inconvenience or a Serious Problem?

Lack of SleepIf you’re suffering from lack of sleep you’re probably wondering how serious it really is. Everyone seems to have a different sleep threshold.

You might be wondering how many all-nighters of cramming for tests you can get away with before it affects concentration. Or you might be wondering how many months of getting up to your baby you can tolerate before it affects your health. Let’s take a look at how and why sleep deprivation can become serious

Perhaps you’re a college student and you’ve been up all night. Maybe you’re a mom with a young baby or a mom with several kids as well as a newborn. Perhaps you’re an executive who often travels for work. Maybe you attend social events late in the evening and never get time to slow down.

Whatever your reason for not getting enough sleep you need to understand the requirements for sleep. You also need to know about the consequences of how a lack of sleep can affect you.

Serious Consequences Of Sleep Deprivation

The process of “shutting off” at frequent and regular intervals, for all living things, is crucial to our survival. It is as crucial as nutrition and hydration. You should not underestimate what a lack of sleep can do to your body.

Sleep deprivation, in any of the ways in which it can manifest, can be detrimental in two ways. Lack of sleep can be acute, with a sudden onset primarily affecting our short-term health. Or it can be chronic, occurring over a longer stretch of time and affecting our overall long-term safety.

Sleep deprivation can range in severity. You experience minor exhaustion after pulling an “all-nighter” for a school project. This is cured with a simple nap. Or it can be a detrimental insomnia related disease for which there is no known cure.

In between these two extremes are multitudes of ways in which a lack of sleep can hurt us.

Sleep Requirements

Although sleep requirements are specific to people individually, there are general range requirements for different stages of life.

For example, according to the National Sleep Foundation, on average, infants need up to 17 hours of sleep in one consecutive session, as compared to the average middle aged adult requiring half of that amount in order to function properly.

Your individual sleep time requirement may differ from another person’s. However the consequences of being negative in your sleep “account” is pretty uniform. Your sleep hours are logged in your body in a kind of bank account. In this bank account a deficit needs to be replenished in some way, at some point.

Detrimental Consequences of Short Term Lack of Sleep

Short term sleep deprivation can have detrimental consequences such as falling asleep behind the wheel. And it’s not only about driving a car.

Sleep deprivation has been the culprit in countless accidents resulting in injuries or deaths. These include incidents when the operators of cars, planes, trains, boats, etc. have either fallen asleep unexpectedly or were not thinking and reacting quickly due to exhaustion.

In comparison, long term sleep deprivation has more subtle (but no less severe) consequences. These include immunosuppression, mental depression, cardiovascular abnormalities, and even chronic systemic multi-organ failure. A lack of sleep can be very serious.

In fact, there exist conditions of insomnia that can actually be fatal and for which there is no known treatment. When you hear the word “starvation,” generally it is associated with deprivation of food and/or water.

However, the body can and will fail to function when starved of sleep as assuredly as it would if starved of nutrients and water. Hence the reason that sleep deprivation is included in many disturbing methods of torture.

A Lack of Sleep can be Fatal

One of the most severe and debilitating manifestations of insomnia is “Fatal Familial Insomnia”. This is an extremely rare hereditary disease. Although it officially caused its first fatality in 1836 in Venice, Italy, it was not officially named and diagnosed until 1986.

It was only in the 1980’s that doctors revealed the culprit of this disease as a prion. Prions are neither bacteria nor virus, rather they are a type of mutated infectious protein that becomes pathogenic, similar to the prion that causes Creutzfeldt-Jakob, otherwise known as Mad Cow Disease.

The first known victim of this disease succumbed to premature senility at the age of 45. He proceeded to suffer from a slew of febrile, epileptic-like episodes that eventually led to his death. These symptoms were later attributed to the fact that his body simply stopped sleeping.

As terrifying as Fatal Familial Insomnia sounds (and is), there are other manifestations of insomnia that are far more common. You’ll need to be aware of the more tangible, realistic ways that the dangers of not sleeping should be of concern to the average person.

Lack of Sleep Dangers

The primary risk that comes from lack of sleep is the ensuing cognitive impairment. Along with cognitive impairment are the consequences of delayed thinking and slowed reaction times that result from sleep diminished cognition.

This doesn’t only affect our ability to drive. If you’ve experienced an ongoing lack of sleep over days or months, you know what it is like. You suffer all day long when your brain just isn’t sharp.  You don’t understand new concepts as quickly, you tend to lose your sense of humor, you find it difficult to find energy and so much more.

You become a danger crossing roads, or trying to multitask during the day. A lack of sleep at night affects your actions 24 hours a day.

When you suffer lack of sleep you may experience brain fog and you may even be a danger to yourself if you need to sign legal documents or make serious financial decisions. When you’re suffering from sleep deprivation it is hard to comprehend ideas. You certainly don’t want to be signing legal documents while you’re in this state.

Let’s take a look at why your body needs sleep…

Why Our Mind And Body Need Rest

Living is hard work. The thousands, even millions, of individual metabolic and assembly line style processes that our minds and bodies have to constantly go through, on both the micro and macroscopic levels, are simply exhausting.

Therefore, you need rest as much as you need water and glucose in order to function in even the most basic of ways.  And when it comes to resting, merely sitting still on a fairly regular basis is not going to cut. Sitting is not enough in terms of satisfactorily relaxing our organs and their processes.

Rest that de-stresses your mind and body in terms of both muscular activity and thoughts alike, is what is truly necessary. You need it to recharge, rejuvenate, and be able to continue to work.

Changing Standards of Rest

A lot of ventures in scientific research have been devoted  to defining the term “rest”. This is not only in relation to what the term means for the human mind and the human body, but that research has also had to explore figuring out what the changing standards of resting are.  This includes the way people evolve, and how times and environments change. Lack of sleep today is important in different ways than it once was.

The speed at which your internal processes function is referred to as your metabolic rate. And obviously there is a cyclical rhythm, similar to our circadian rhythm, that determines the energy at each metabolic stage.

You expend calories both when we are active and when we are at rest. However, the calories that we save while resting end up being incredibly valuable in contributing to the energy that we need to expend while we are active.

What the resting requirements (and subsequent ways to perpetuate them) were for people who lived 10,000, 1,000, or even 100 years ago are different than they are today.  And will most definitely be different in even just 10 years time. This is primarily due to technology, increasingly demanding workloads and expectations, evolving schedules, and a world that never sleeps.

What we have learned so far about the correlation between states of rest and periods of activity, is that the substantive nature of what we do when we shut down, and how we achieve that so called “turning off,” is tantamount to the quality of our activity when we are in motion.

Other Types of Rest

Sleep, although absolutely a fundamental example of rest (in all of its varieties and definitions), is not the only way in which your physical and mental self needs to take a break. We are not only concerned with lack of sleep, but lack of rest too. You also need to learn to take a break from your everyday environment in a way that relaxes you. You need to learn how to tend individually to both types of restful activities. This means you can heal your mind and use the inactivity that rests your body.

For some, going on a solitary hike in a beautiful place will do wonders for relaxing the mind. And actually, even though hiking is technically a potentially stressful physical activity, it can actually be restful. This is true because it is restful to muscles if the activity itself relaxes the person.

However, for others, for example people who feel stressed out by outdoor activities and nature in general, a hike would only be annoying and stressful. Therefore it would be completely counter-intuitive to achieving the goals of rest and relaxation.

We need other beneficial sessions of rest, at regularly periodic intervals, in addition to the hours that we devote to sleeping, in order to make the best of our time when we are not “taking it easy.”

What Works Now is Different from Yesteryear

The modern world works equally as hard as its predecessor. However, we work harder in far more different ways. Thus we require the rest to be equally as hard, effective, and versatile in its nowadays applications.

The type of rest that was effective and sufficient for a farmer in 1880 would obviously never apply realistically, and successfully, to a hedge funds manager in 2018, and vice versa.

To begin with a farmer in the last century was doing a lot of physical exercise. And for this reason, probably didn’t need any more exercise in a week to help his body sleep well at night. Whereas a hedge funds manager does not spend the day lifting heavy tools or walking the fields.

With little physical exercise from the job, the office worker needs to find a way to get physical exercise. This will then help balance cortisol levels from stress during the day. Without this balance it is hard for the body to get true rest. And it’s often hard to wind down at the end of the day.

However, humans are animals that are bound by the laws of nature and biology. This is regardless of the era in which we live. And resting our bodies, down to the cellular level, is equally as essential to the modern day professional as it was to the first caveman.

If stress is affecting your sleep quality, read on…

How Stress Affects Your Sleep Quality

To understand how stress affects your sleep and other functions in your life, you need to understand what the word stress actually means. We will look at stress in terms of its sources and applications.  And how that affects your body and your sleep. We’ll look at how stress and lack of sleep go together.

Most people associate the word stress in a connotatively negative way. However, although the majority of stress isn’t positive, not all stressors or stress are “bad.”

For example, crying “tears of joy,” or even laughing uncontrollably are stressful events that are the result of happy times. According to Dr. Doni Wilson, a naturopathic doctor who has widely explored the topic of stress in relation to health “stress is the primary condition of life”. She goes on to say that “whether we feel exhilarated, thrilled, or listless, or jumpy, and depressed, cortisol is likely at the root of our experience”.

Physiologically, stress in our bodies is the result of our endocrine system producing and releasing certain stress hormones, the primary one being cortisol. Cortisol is associated with our “fight or flight” response. It is also involved in any event, natural or otherwise, that triggers the release of cortisol. This results in other subsequent chemical reactions in our bodies. This includes increasing blood sugar levels, stimulating thyroid hormone production (the thyroid gland regulates our metabolism), and suppressing insulin production.

The chemicals in our body that affect stress levels

Other chemicals in our bodies besides the endogenous (naturally occurring) glucocorticoids (cortisol etc) include the following:

  • Catecholamines (adrenaline, also referred to as epinephrine, noradrenaline, also referred to as norepinephrine, and dopamine),
  • growth hormones (such as somatotropin), and
  • prolactin (a very influential naturally occurring protein that is responsible for milk production in females, but is a crucial element to approximately 300 physiochemical processes).

A myriad of conditions that are indicative of poor health are often the result of imbalances in these hormones and chemicals.  And a major sign that an imbalance in any of these exists would be if a person is not getting quality sleep.

Alternatively, if a person is receiving an adequate amount (7.5 to 9 hours at a time) of replenishing sleep, then there is good reason to believe that their endocrine system, including all of the hormones that make up the endocrine system, are in balance.

Cortisol levels in the body

Ideally, cortisol levels should ramp up in the mornings, which in turn increases our blood sugar levels and gives us energy to be productive throughout the day, and as the day progresses into evening, our cortisol levels should be tapering down, and be at their lowest at night when we want to go to sleep.

If, for whatever reason, that process is reversed, or off kilter in any way, then your wonky cortisol levels affect your sleep in a multitude of ways.

Everything from an upcoming wedding, to a big project at work, to worrying about a loved one in the hospital, and everything in between, can and will affect our cortisol levels, which, in turn, can and will affect not only the amount of sleep we receive, but also the quality of that sleep. Quality of sleep can be just as important as lack of sleep.

Finding ways, including non-pharmaceutical options, of achieving optimal cortisol and other stress hormonal harmony will aid in proper digestion and metabolism. And that will lead to proper sleep.

Proper sleep is a crucial element to our overall health. Managing stress and making efforts to ensure that the stimulation of our stress hormones is happening at appropriate intervals and at adequate levels is crucial to ensuring that we get healthful sleep.

The bottom line is, that sleep is a crucial element to your health and safety. Lack of sleep can hinder your body and impair your mind. But great benefits to our overall well-being can be attributed to getting enough quality sleep in our lives.

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⇒  Lack of sleep has an impact on your brain. See the effects here.

⇒  10 problems caused by a lack of sleep. Read more here.

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