In our modern, hurried lifestyles, we sacrifice much-needed sleep to get up for work in the morning or to catch up on our favorite TV shows in the evening. When Friday rolls around, you try to catch up on lost hours of sleep over the weekend only to get up at a bleak hour on Monday morning and begin the cycle of exhaustion yet again.
The average adult requires seven to nine hours of sleep per night, while children and teens often need even more. Yet, the epidemic of sleep loss continues to be socially acceptable, even commended.
How harmless is it to skip a few hours of sleep on most nights? Here are four reasons why sleep deprivation is not as harmless as it is often assumed to be.
1. It has a negative impact on your productivity
You probably already know that you are not as good at problem-solving and retaining newly learned information when you slept poorly the night before. What you may not know is just how serious a consistent lack of sleep is.
The full impact short rests have on productivity is often underestimated by the general public. Unsympathetic employers force workers to take a late shift ending at midnight, followed by a shift beginning at six in the morning the next day. Workaholics proudly sacrifice half of the night to get in a few extra hours of work.
A mere thirty minutes of sleep loss is enough to have a marked effect on your work speed and efficiency regardless of what your job entails. Sacrificing sleep in the name of productivity actually backfires; a person who has had sufficient rest consistently gets more quality work done in eight hours than a tired, burnt-out individual on a twelve-hour shift.
2. Your mood drops considerably
When you encounter a person with a sour attitude, your first thought is probably to wonder how much that person slept last night. Too many short nights are enough to dampen even the most cheerful person’s outlook on life. After a night or more of insufficient sleep, you may be far more irritable or gloomy than usual. Situations that seemed manageable when you were wide awake now feel overwhelming, and you view everything through a tired, negative lens.
3. You are more likely to get sick
The last time you were sick and working, you probably longed to go home and just relax in front of the TV or go straight to bed. The exhaustion and low-energy accompanying a cold or virus is your body’s way of telling you to rest to accelerate the healing process.
Sleep strengthens your immune system and prevents or hastens the healing of illnesses. When your body is fighting sickness, you will probably need one or two more hours of sleep than usual. If you ignore your body’s plea for sleep, you may get sick more often or take longer to get better than otherwise.
Injuries and muscle soreness also last days longer in people who are chronically tired versus those who consistently get a good night’s rest.
4. It can be extremely dangerous
Many people drive cars to and from work. A large percentage of those people are exhausted and may even fall asleep at the wheel on the drive over or back home.
Driving when tired is socially accepted while drunk driving is not. This normalized practice of drowsy driving is disturbing, as an exhausted driver is no more reliable than a drunken one.
The statistics of devastating accidents caused by drivers who have fallen asleep at the wheel are comparable to those caused by drunk drivers. A person who has lost three to four hours of sleep is no less likely than a person with a 0.08 concentration of alcohol to cause a collision.
A two-second microsleep at the wheel is enough for a head-on collision to occur.
Medical professions such as surgery that require close attention and precision are full of overworked, under-slept doctors. A tired doctor is far more likely to make a fatal mistake during surgery than a well-rested doctor.
While the occasional lack of sleep is inevitable, setting a strict schedule of going to bed at the same time each evening and allowing yourself at least an eight-hour chance to sleep is crucial for your overall health and even safety. Sacrificing an hour of your favorite TV show, or getting a new job that better accommodates your sleep needs, is well worth it and may even save your life.