Sleep: Health and Stress

Are we educated about sleep? Children don’t get taught about sleep in school.

They are some times told to get a good night’s sleep in preparation of a test the next day. That’s it.

Most of us need eight hours of sound sleep to function at our best, and good health demands good sleep, and helps reduce stress.

The Function of Sleep

Surprisingly, it’s not how much sleep you get that’s important it’s the level of sleep you achieve that truly restores you, body and mind.

Sleep can be divided into two crucial phases:

1) Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep takes up 80% of the average dreamer’s night. The earliest phase of NREM sleep begins with general relaxation of muscles. This relaxed state eventually culminates in the deepest sleep level when it appears that protein synthesis, growth hormones, immune function, and the mind are given a boost. Delta waves “the slowest and largest waves” signal the onset of this most rejuvenating sleep level, which constitutes 50% of an adult’s sleep time.

2) Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep takes up about 25% of an average sleeper’s night. Dreams that occur during REM sleep might provide, in a sense, a sorting through of free-floating information. Prolonged REM deprivation has been linked to excessively anxious or emotional behavior that dissipates once more regular sleeping habits are achieved. REM sleep is thought to be the most important period for mental revitalization.

Risky Consequences From Sleeplessness

According to the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated $35 billion is lost yearly in productivity, sick leave, medical expenses, and property and environmental damage because of sleep deprivation and untreated sleep disorders.

It’s more than a simple matter of dragging yourself through the day. On-the-job dozing can dearly cost the sleep-deprived worker and those around him.

For example, the environmentally disastrous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska reportedly involved the sleepiness of the tanker’s third-mate.

The problem also hits much closer to home. Driver fatigue has been identified as the greatest accident risk factor affecting motor carriers.

Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 100,000 crashes per year are caused by drivers nodding off behind the wheel and that thousands die as the result of such accidents.

The National Sleep Foundation’s poll even found that 23% of those questioned had dozed off while driving some time in the past year.

It would seem that people know not to drive drunk but not to refrain from driving tired.
If your eyes are closing on you, the only surefire way to save your life as well as others is to pull over to the side of the road and give in to sleep.

Is Lifestyle the Culprit?

How is it that there is an epidemic of sleepiness so severe in the United States that it kills people regularly? In the first decade of this century” prior to the widespread usage of electricity” Americans basically bedded down at nightfall.

Since then, they have lived increasingly longer days. They also lead driven lifestyles, attempting to balance successful career and home lives. The exhausting modern schedule leaves little time for the “luxury” of sleep.

Who Is Most Affected?

Late shift workers. Not only do Americans give up a good night’s rest in an attempt to keep up with the hectic pace of the electronic age, many, including late shift healthcare, military and public safety workers, nuclear power plant operators, medical residents, and long-haul truck drivers, are building daily schedules against the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

That rhythm dictates that the longest period of sleepiness occurs during the hours of 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Thus, people who work the late shift lose out on the time that the body is programmed for the deepest and most beneficial sleep.

Older adults. The elderly, too, cope with a special set of difficulties that keeps them from getting the sleep they need. Aging brings on a host of health and stress related problems.

Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and exercise at least four hours before bedtime.

Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, and alcohol, though a depressant that makes falling asleep easier initially, interferes with deep sleep later on during the night. Exercise also acts as a stimulant, but a workout earlier in the day can improve nighttime rest.

Leave worrying outside the bed. If you stay awake worrying about things you have to tackle the next day, write out a list of “to-dos” to take the pressure off. Then put the list aside to deal with the next day.

Keep other activities out of the bedroom. Don’t confuse your bedroom with your family room. Keep your television viewing and Net surfing out of your sleeping quarters.

Reduce noise levels. Apartment-dwellers with noisy neighbors or those on heavily trafficked streets can block out noise with a fan or sound-simulating machine that mimic nature sounds (such as the ocean or rain).