When I finish my week on call I always seem to be obsessed with sleep. I generally don’t sleep well when I’m on call, waiting for calls from the ER, the hospital and patients. I joke that when I’m done I feel like I’ve finally taken off a pair of shoes that are too tight, and my toes get a chance to stretch out. What really is under all that pressure, though, is my mind.
After making it through four years of medical school, three years of residency and the newborn period after having two babies, I’m more familiar with sleep deprivation than I want to be. Fatigue is really the least important of the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Since I’ve been thinking so much about sleep, I thought I’d share some information with you. Maybe those of you who skimp on sleep will see why you should make sure you get your 7-8 hours per night.
- Sleep deprivation affects memory, judgment and fine-motor control as much as if not more than alcohol intoxication. The National Highway Safety Administration estimates that drowsy drivers cause about 56,000 accidents and 1500 deaths on the road every year. If you are yawning or having trouble focusing you definitely need a nap before driving anywhere. I actually fell asleep behind the wheel on the highway for a few moments while driving home from my residency after a rough night on call. Luckily I drifted towards the median and the rumble strip woke me up. I don’t drive drowsy anymore! One close call is enough!
- Kids who are sleep deprived act very much like they have ADHD. They have decreased attention and focus, they are more impulsive and less able to follow directions and cooperate with teachers and classmates. Elementary-school children need at least 10 hours of sleep per night.
- Sleep deprivation affects your mood. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, not being well rested will affect your symptoms. Irritability and decreased coping are well-known signs of sleep deprivation (hence the hordes of helpers every set of new parents needs).
- Teenagers who are sleep deprived are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, as they have more problems with impulse control than their better-rested counterparts. Teens need at least 9 hours of sleep per night (which makes the common custom of having high school classes start before 8AM complete nonsense).
- Studies of professional sports athletes have demonstrated over and over that improved sleep time and quality improves performance on the field and decreases injuries. Even if you are a rec league player or a weekend warrior, being well rested will help you shave time off your runs and decrease the risk of a twisted ankle during pick-up basketball.
- Sleep deprivation makes you gain weight. Not only are tired people less likely to plan and execute healthy balanced meals (pizza after a long week is pretty common in my house too!) but lack of sleep decreases levels of the hormone leptin. Leptin decreases appetite, so sleepy people are hungrier and seem to crave junk food.
- Sleep deprivation makes you more likely to get sick. There was an interesting study published where they measured the number of hours people slept then exposed them to a cold virus. Participants who slept less than 7 hours nightly were more than 3 times more likely to get the cold than those who slept 8 hours or more. That’s super important for me, because as you know I’m surrounded by cooties all day long!
I bet there’s something in this list of concern to you. Hopefully I’ve given you lots of food for thought, and lots of reasons to pay extra attention to your and your family’s sleep habits.
Sleep tight! No bedbugs tonight! (Actually that’s a topic for another post, LOL!)