Did you know that each year when we "spring forward" at the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, heart attacks and car accidents spike? Productivity, performance and concentration are also significantly disturbed. Losing just one hour of sleep might not seem like a big deal -- many of us do this regularly and without a second thought -- but the truth is that the impact can be quite major.
- A study at the University of Alabama found that heart attacks increase by 10 percent on Monday and Tuesday following Daylight Saving Time.
- A Swedish study found that heart attacks increase the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday following the switch to Daylight Saving Time.
- A study of traffic accidents throughout Canada by Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia found a 7 percent increase in traffic accidents on the Monday after we spring ahead.
- According to the Journal of Applied Psychology, accidents at work happen more often and are more severe after springing forward.
The effect of Daylight Saving Time clearly indicates that sleep is not a luxury, but rather a necessity impacting our physical health, brain function and safety. And if just one hour of sleep deprivation one night of the year can have such a marked impact on people, what about the constant and chronic sleep deprivation people endure regularly? Sleep deprivation is epidemic. Our society sleeps less than ever before -- fueling instead on caffeinated beverages and squeezing in extra time being "productive" in lieu of sleep. The impact is probably much larger than you think!
Emotional Dysregulation: Brain imaging studies performed at the University of California, Berkley and Harvard Medical School demonstrate that "while a good night's rest can regulate your mood and help you cope with the next day's emotional challenges, sleep deprivation does the opposite by excessively boosting the part of the brain most closely connected to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders." The researchers determined that when there is a lack of sleep, the amygdala goes into overdrive. The amygdala is the part of our brain responsible for alerting us to protect ourselves when danger presents. When the amygdala goes into overdrive, this causes the prefrontal cortex to shut down. The prefrontal cortex controls our logical reasoning and the release of chemicals that calm us from a fight-or-flight response. When the prefrontal cortex turns off, as in the case of someone who is sleep deprived, emotional regulation is seriously compromised.
Diabetes and Cancer: In a study performed at the University of Surrey's Sleep Research Centre, people who slept 6.5 hours at night vs. 7.5 hours had an increase risk of diabetes and cancer. The opposite was true for people who slept 7.5 hours -- their risk of diabetes and cancer decreased.
Cognitive Abilities and Memory: Even just a small amount of sleep deficiency can affect our ability to think properly and respond quickly to situations that present throughout one's day. Research also shows that memory is deeply effected by lack of sleep because critical to our ability to retain things we learned during the day is the need for sleep both before and after learning.
Ability to Fight Infection: Over time, inadequate sleep can wear at the immune system, making you more susceptible to infection.
Weight Gain: Sleep is important in regulating appetite, energy use and weight. When we sleep, our bodies produce leptin, an appetite suppressor. Likewise, our production of the appetite stimulant, grehlin, decreases when we sleep. When we do not get adequate sleep, we produce less leptin and more grehlin which makes us hungrier while we are awake. Further, studies show that a lack of sleep is connected to a significant increase in the desire to eat high-calorie foods. Our bodies shift into a desire for weight-gain. Also worth mentioning is the mere fact that we simply have more waking hours to eat when we sleep less.
Cardiovascular Health: Studies demonstrate that our cardiovascular health is impacted by inadequate sleep. According to the Journal of Sleep Research, blood pressure levels improve when people with hypertension get more sleep. Further, the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study found that healthy middle-aged people who get enough sleep each night are less likely to accumulate calcium deposits on their coronary arteries, which contribute to heart disease. This study showed that just one extra hour of sleep at night to be associated with a 33 percent reduction of the risk of coronary artery calcification.
This is just a small sampling of the detrimental effects of a lack of sleep, and I hope I have convinced you of just how important sleep is to your health and how you feel. If you are ready to assess whether you are getting enough sleep here is a guide from the National Sleep Foundation as to just how many hours of sleep we need:
- Newborns (0-2 months old): 12-18 hours
- Infants (3-11 months old): 14-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-3 years old): 12-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years old): 11-13 hours
- School Age Children (5-10 years old): 10-11 hours
- Pre-Teens and Teens (11-17 years old): 8.5-9.5 hours
- Adults (18 and older): 7-9 hours
- It should be noted that there are a lucky few who have a mutated sleep gene -- the hDEC2 gene -- allowing them to get by with just six hours of sleep per night. This gene, however, is present in less than 3 percent of the population.
Ying-Hui Fu, Ph.D., neurology professor at the University of California, San Francisco suggests, that adults need about 8 - 8.5 hours of sleep per night. She says that the average American sleeps 7.4 hours on non-week nights and less on week nights.
Unless you have mutant genes, regardless of what day of the year it is, if you're not sleeping enough, shoot for seven to nine hours. Wishing you many peaceful nights and sweetest dreams.