A quarter of Americans get too little sleep. Teens only get about 6.5 hours. 41 million workers miss about two hours of sleep they need every night. Social jet lag after the weekend, too many demands on time during the week, sleep disorders, and irregular sleep habits are a few ways Americans lose sleep. Sleep loss is a big barrier to wellness.
Sleep loss triggers cardiometabolic malfunction. We devour more calories especially from high-fat foods. Glucose metabolism slows, and we gain unwanted weight. Blood pressure control is impaired. Mood and thinking is impaired. Pain sensitivity increases. Our immune response is less robust. If getting enough sleep is important, why do we get so little? How much do we need?
Believe it or not, we need seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Children and teens need the most and are the most vulnerable to the effects of sleep loss. Experts say getting all the sleep we need is just as important to our wellbeing as daily exercise and eating better. Yet, when they sound the alarm about American sleep deprivation, we hit the snooze button and dream up new ways to go without sleep. Even sleep experts admit to skipping sleep once in a while. Why does our culture promote diet and exercise, yet regard sleep like a waste of time a barrier to success?
Stories in the media about presidents, well-known business tycoons, and celebrities who get little sleep suggest we must choose between success and sleep. Ordinary families are busier than ever and running from one event to another from before dawn to the end of most evenings. We obsessively monitor electronic devices for information updates, go to bed and get up at irregular times, and plan our sleep around obligations we make to others rather than following our body clock. Balancing responsibilities can be hard. We do what we think we must.
Americans would be healthier if we popularized eight or nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Unfortunately, we are confederates in a culture that deliberately discounts sleep. Our consent to this trend is implicit when we help fuel the myth that less sleep is good, or think regular bedtime is goofy.
Many people eat well and exercise daily but do not have a regular bedtime or rarely get a full night of sleep. Why? Ask your doctor. American medical schools practically institutionalize sleep deprivation. High schools start classes before teens wake up, parents work from dark to dark to pay the bills, and popular culture celebrates sleep-skippers. When will we wake up?
Success is possible if we get enough sleep. An American known for his success as well as his plain-spoken style is T. Boone Pickens, says it is quite simple, "you work eight hours, and you sleep eight hours - be sure they're not the same eight hours."
Pay no attention to nonsense claims that getting eight regular hours of sleep every night is bad. If we reconnect sleep to wellness, we may find the best success in life.
Editor's note: Brian Rendel, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC, is a professional counselor with the?Copper Country Mental Health Institute in Houghton.