You snooze, you lose… right? The truth is, if you DON’T Snooze, you will absolutely lose. Thinking of pulling an all-nighter? Well think again. Studies have shown that just one night of inadequate sleep takes away your mental focus and decreases your coordination – even to the level of having a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent. That’s the legal limit for intoxication. Imagine that – if you haven’t slept for one full night, you’d have the same level of impaired function as a drunk person.
March is National Sleep Awareness month and I want to share some startling facts with you.
1 in 3 Americans do not get enough sleep. Lack of sleep leads to weight gain! Sleeping less than 7 hours/night increases your risk of developing:
- High blood pressure/li>
- Heart disease
Let’s take a look at short-term lack of sleep compared to long-term sleep deprivation.
In the short-term, if you miss just one night of sleep, your level of functioning is impaired – equal to having a blood alcohol level of 0.10. You’ll tend to be hungrier and eat bigger portions, especially more unhealthy foods like high-carb, high calorie processed foods. You’ll have more mood swings and be more irritable. Your ability to focus will be more difficult and you’ll have memory problems.
Pretty scary, right? Well, just wait until you hear the long-term negative effects of sleep deprivation.
After not getting enough sleep for days and weeks, you have an increased risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease. In fact, your risk of having a stroke quadruples! For those couples trying to get pregnant, beware – chronic sleep deprivation leads to decrease in sperm count. The risk of certain cancers also increases especially for aggressive breast cancers and colorectal cancer (Remember last week’s post?)
Lastly, your risk of death goes up…
Believe me that I am no stranger to sleep deprivation. From the latter years of medical school through internship/residency and then practicing Obstetrics for 13 years, I’ve had my share of missed nights.
Let me share a story about something scary that happened to me…
By the time I had entered my internship year in Ob/Gyn residency at UCSD Medical Center, the lack of chronic sleep loss had taken its toll. In fact, I was so obsessed with wanting to sleep I had dreams of my bed being stolen. Dreams of coming home to no bed. Pretty clear signs of sleep deprivation, right?
I specifically remember one Saturday afternoon driving back after being on call. I had worked over 30 hours, working all day Friday and then working on Labor & Delivery that night, triaging patients, delivering babies, and doing C-sections. As we all know, babies come at all times of the night and this night was a whammy!
By early afternoon the next day, I felt completely exhausted. My head hurt and I had a nauseous feeling in my stomach. All I wanted to is to drive home and collapse in my bed. I salivated at the thought of my cozy bed in my quiet room. And no beeper to awaken me!
Although, my eyes felt heavy and my headache increased, I started the engine in my VW Bug, rolled down the windows, put the radio on full-blast and sang to whatever was being played. I even chewed gum to keep my jaws and neck engaged – Anything and everything to stay awake. Near the merge where Interstate 805 meets Interstate 5, I felt my eyes get even heavier, I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open. And then it happened, for a few seconds, I fell asleep and veered to my right. In a split second, I woke up with my front bumper about 6 inches from a car in the next lane. My adrenals shot stinging pulses of adrenaline through my body. My heart raced and my eyes opened with my brain on full alert. I quickly swerved back into my lane and headed for the nearest exit to regain my sanity. I screamed at myself “Oh my gosh, I just barely squeaked out of a potentially fatal accident!” I put other’s lives and my own life at risk.
Unfortunately, my story is not uncommon. According to the Center for Disease Control, statistics show that drowsy driving causes over 72,000 car accidents, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths annually.
After my life-threatening experience, I promised never again drive feeling drowsy or sleep deprived. For your edification and fortunately, for the interns and residents who followed me, regulations were put in place to limit the maximum number of consecutive hours worked to 12 hours.
Today with over ten years of not practicing Obstetrics and delivering babies, I truly relish my sleep. Every night, I make a point to get at least 8 hours of sleep. If I don’t get this amount, I notice the symptoms that I mentioned with short-term sleep deprivation.
So do you want to know how to improve your quantity and quality of sleep? Then stay tuned to my next post where I’ll share many tips to getting enough ZZZ’s.
In health and happiness,