Sleep deficiency, particularly for those of us for whom sleep tends to be elusive, slipping out into the night like a cat in search of a mouse, can be a tricky truth to acknowledge. Often we get by with whatever snatches of sound slumber sneak into our vigils of wakefulness.
We get used to functioning on too little. It becomes our norm, and we loose track of what really is normal.
But it behooves us to be clear about what can happen when we’re short on sleep. I, for one, fumbled my way through too many years of too little sleep without understanding the consequences.
When we loose sleep, we also loose both our mind and health, at least to some degree. Our brains are compromised and our risk for disease rises significantly, as does our experience of pain.
While a very small percentage of people function well on 3-4 hours of sleep, most of us require a minimum of roughly 8 hours of sound sleep nightly. Just one night of sleep deprivation, even under 7 hours, can result in loss of brain tissue, focus and memory, increase our chances of catching the next cold virus that comes our way, heighten our emotional response to events and experiences, and adversely affect our liver.
Ongoing or frequent sleep deprivation increases our risk for stroke, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Trading off sleep, by choice or by chance, can have serious consequences!
What’s suffices for you may differ, of course, from what another person needs to function well. Getting enough sleep is the difference between waking up in the morning easily, feeling refreshed and energized, and getting out of bed with difficulty, feeling groggy, still tired.
How do you tell if you aren’t getting enough sleep? Is the rest you do get good enough for you? Pay attention to these clues that you might be sleeping inadequately:
* Do you feel hungry all day, while craving high-carbohydrate, high-calorie foods?
* Do you often feel run-down and catch common colds?
* Are you moving with more clumsiness than usual?
* Do you feel decreased sex drive?
* Is stress of any sort increasing your level of the stress hormone, cortisol?
* Do you have trouble with focus and concentration, confusion, or forgetfulness?
* Are you having difficulty placing emotional experiences into context?
Does any of that sound familiar? I know that I’ve been there, with “yes” for more than one of those symptoms more than once in my life. Sometimes the reason for my disrupted sleep is clear; occasionally I have no idea why I lie wide awake while everyone else dreams deeply.
If you’ve struggled with and found success in addressing your sleep, please share your story. I’d like to hear from you.