During our lifetime, we spend a fair amount of time sleeping or at least trying to fall asleep. It is another matter if we are able to fall into deep sleep or spend most of the night tossing and turning around. The quality of sleep can pretty much determine our physical, mental and emotional health. Lack of sleep can have disastrous effects on various functions we have to perform during the day.
A latest report Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem (April 4, 2006) issued by Institute of Medicine does not paint a good picture of our sleeping habits. It estimates that at least 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic disorders of sleep and wakefulness. Such a figure is ominous. “The cumulative long-term effects”, it reported, “of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been associated with a wide range of deleterious consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke”.
Apart from these physical consequences, mental and emotional consequences of going without sleep can be equally disastrous. Loss of concentration and attention are known to contribute to accidents and almost 20 percent of serious car crashes are blamed on sleepiness.
Additionally, business sector loses a big time because of the fatigue resulting for non-restive sleep, day-time sleepiness and lack of proper attention. All this snowballs into errors in decision-making process which could cost big bucks in high-sensitivity scenarios. Even the crash of space shuttle Challenger is blamed on the error contributed by lack of sleep or judgment impairment caused by it.
Lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep exacts a heavy price on the functioning of bodily operations. Body needs a restful period to recoup its energy and throw out toxins which we accumulate during day time. When we are not able to fall asleep and the body does not go into the hibernation mode, all the functions related to that phase such as detoxification, repair and other recuperative operations are compromised. These functions are best executed when the body is resting and metabolic activities are on bare minimum level.
The side-effects of not having enough sleep are countless. It can practically compromise your mental and physical being to function properly. Even more, it can substantially lower down your quality of life.
Do you also cut down on your sleep time to catch up with extra work? If you keep on doing this for a long time without sounding apocalyptic, your body and mind might end up facing rough weather sooner than later. Sleep is not only important; it is indispensable for survival and healthy functioning of body.
All these problems, in part, are caused by our productivity-driven culture where we tend to sacrifice vital things in the name of work and efficiency. Stress caused by this mentality has led to a hike in all the major life-style related diseases such as cardio-vascular problems, depression, insomnia, immune disorders and so on and so forth.
What can you do about it?
One thing you should bear in mind is that being sleepless is not irreversible—it is something we have learnt because we carry the burden of day or work life into our bedroom. Therefore, if you can somehow learn not to take your work into bedroom, the quality of sleep will improve substantially. Though a lot is dependent upon work as it pays bills, yet we need to question as to why we work. If working a certain job starts to threaten physical, mental and emotional health, you need to wake up and evaluate your work.
One way to cultivate this discernment is to become mindful of your work habits, its effects on your health and family life. Try to think about ‘how much you are willing to loose in the end because of your habits and actions’? The answer to this question might help you straighten out priorities. Scientists have found that mindfulness-based programs can help you cultivate discrimination for balancing work and life and help you sleep better.
Above all, if you deny your body and mind its rightful demand to have daily restful sleep, it will find a way to get that. But that will come in the form of diseases and other problems.
It is up to you which way you want to go!
Parmjit Singh, PhD