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The Sleep Epidemic

Last week, we discussed the myths and facts around morning routines. One common myth is that you should wake up early in order to get a productive start to your day. However, this is not always the case. People often talk about getting a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, but neglect to mention the importance of sleep. In fact, this has become such a widespread problem that the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has declared the issue as a public health epidemic. Today, we’re going to discuss why sleep is often looked over, what counts as a “good night’s sleep” and the impact it has on our physical and mental health.

Drs. Ferrara and Gennaro’s article on How much sleep do we need? gives the readers a better idea on the sleep-related risks that occur today. Data supports the idea that a significant portion of today’s population have been getting insufficient sleep everyday. In the past twenty years, there has been a marked decrease in leisure time experienced by American workers. The widespread use of smartphones and TV has led to increased artificial light and activity during the nighttime. People today are getting less sleep during the night and poor sleep quality in general. In other words, people are experiencing a 24-hour work day. When they do have time to relax, they often turn to technology or other means of entertainment. This has led to a significant increase in sleep deficiency within the adult population.

What does sleep deficiency actually look like? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sleep deficiency can result from various means including a) the amount of sleep, b) the type of sleep, and c) when you go to sleep. As a reminder, adults typically require seven to eight hours of sleep on a regular basis. Getting less than this amount may result in improper sleep. Furthermore, there are two important types of sleep: REM (Rapid-Eye Movement) and non-REM (deeper sleep). These occur in intervals throughout the night and both are essential in the way your brain works. Getting only one of them can lead to sleep deficiency. Finally, when you go to sleep is also important. People operate according to a cardiac rhythm, also known as your “internal clock”. This clock follows a 24-hour cycle and can be why you feel more tired at certain times of the day. Not sleeping when you feel tired, or sleeping when you don’t feel tired, can have adverse effects on your body.

So, why exactly is sleep deficiency so important? You may get a little moody and have low energy throughout the day, but it might not be as bad as eating lots of junk food or getting no exercise, right? Actually, science suggests that a lack of sleep can impact several areas of your lifestyle. In physical health, a lack of quality sleep has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressures, diabetes, and obesity. It can also lead to changes in mood and focusing, therefore making you more prone to depression or anxiety. After regular insufficient sleep, your body will attempt to gain sleep without your conscious appreciation. This can result in falling asleep in dangerous circumstances, such as behind the wheel of a car. It’s estimated that there have been almost 91,000 police-reported car crashes as a result of “drowsy driving” and from those accidents, around 800 deaths. Though skipping a few hours of sleep may not seem that harmful at first, it can lead to dire consequences for yourself and the people around you.

On the other hand, getting more sleep can provide several benefits. It can boost your immune system and strength. It can improve your ability to focus, improve your mood and awareness, and bring about better memory. Consistent sleep can even lead to other benefits in health, such as digestion and exercise. Though sleep is not often spoken about, it is just as important as getting enough nutrition and physical activity.

Today we spoke about the Sleep Epidemic, how it happened and why it’s such a big deal. Next week, we’ll discuss ways in which you can apply these principles to your life and get better sleep at night. What do you think about sleep epidemic? Do you think you get enough sleep at night? Comment any questions or thoughts you have!

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