Go to Sleep
The Importance of Getting a Good Night's Sleep
By Heather Maloney
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center staff
We all have those days: a deadline at work, a sick child, or even thoughts of the ballooning credit card bill keep us up into the wee hours and, after just a few hours of shut-eye, we're up again and back on the treadmill. While these situations are sure to crop up, chronically short-changing yourself in the sleep department can negatively affect your health and well-being.
"There's something very essential about sleep-it's biologically required," says
Geoffrey Gilmartin, Director of the
Sleep Disorders Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "To think that you can make due with less than you need is not a great idea."
"It's interesting because why we sleep is still somewhat of a mystery," he continues. "But at the same time, we know that certain things happen if you go without it."
Studies have shown that people who are sleep-deprived don't activate the frontal areas of the brain that are responsible for things like organization, while the areas responsible for emotional content become more activated. As a result, a person who's overtired will often respond more emotionally to a situation than they normally would. Everything becomes overwhelming: the kids, your job, even the laundry. Things that are actually manageable are perceived as unmanageable.
Lack of sleep also affects your cognitive thinking. Once a person has been awake for 18 hours, cognitive abilities start to diminish. The capacity to pay attention is the first thing to suffer, which goes on to affect learning and memory, and everything else follows.
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to specific health issues, such as obesity and diabetes. It's been shown that people who are obese tend to sleep less, and vice versa. Scientists think this may be due to a shift in hormones: when you're sleep-deprived, the hormones that signal hunger and tell you when you're full are reversed, so you get a persistent signal to eat.
So how much sleep should you get? Dr. Gilmartin suggests an average of eight hours each night, give or take an hour. But he points out that there are a few ways you can tell if you're getting the sleep you need.
"There are two points in the day that matter: when you first get up in the morning, and between 2-4 pm," he says. "When you get up, it's normal to be groggy for a few minutes, but if that grogginess persists for 30 minutes or more, that means you didn't pay off your sleep debt from the night before."
"Also, between 2-4 pm, your circadian drive for wakefulness takes a bit of a dip," he continues. "If you have an excess need for sleep, it will show up then, so if you can't get through this period in the afternoon, you're probably sleep deprived."
So, now that you've figured out you aren't getting enough sleep, what can you do? The good news is that with "recovery sleep" you can catch up on lost sleep over a period of time.
"It won't happen in just one night," Dr. Gilmartin says. "But you can pay off your sleep debt. Most people find that it takes several days to recover from one bad night of sleep."
If you find that you are excessively sleepy during the day, you should consult a physician. To contact the Sleep Disorders Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, call (617) 667-5864.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
Posted June 2009