Sleep – it is important

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June 5th, 2013

Are you getting enough sleep? Sleep deprivation is a common problem in modern society where a culture of 24/7 has developed. Our need to be on the go well into the evening seems to be responsible for the fact that sleep has crept to the bottom of our priority list.

What we don’t seem to realise is the danger a lack of adequate and quality sleep has for our overall health.

Determining exactly how much sleep is adequate can vary between individuals and factors such as, age and activity levels will have an impact on the optimum level of sleep required. The general consensus is that adults require between 7 to 8 hours of shut eye each night to stay healthy.

Sadly, not many of us seem to manage 7 to 8 hours per night. Due to our busy lifestyles we tend to leave a part of our ‘to do’ list until the end of the day. Television, the internet and family commitments are some of the reasons people find getting to bed on time a challenge.

Whatever the reason, research and most medical professionals agree that:

  1. there is not enough public awareness regarding the importance of sleep
  2. sleep deprivation carries with it serious risks to our health and safety

If you are not convinced as to the importance of sleep, here are some of the effects associated with a lack of adequate sleep:

  • loss of quality of life
  • risk to safety
  • compromised ability to perform at work
  • compromised cognitive function
  • loss of memory
  • slowing of response times
  • loss of ability to make complex decisions
  • risk to overall mental health
  • risk of weight gain
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Alarmingly, as a society we have accepted sleep deprivation as the norm. The impact is even greater if we spread this over the spectrum of public health and our workplaces. One of the major issues is that sleep deprivation often goes unrecognised, but it only takes 1 to 2 hours of inadequate sleep over 2 consecutive nights to begin having an effect. Over a longer term, you may feel irritable, sleepy during the day, emotional and unable to make decisions.

In the United States, a recent article (The Wall Street Journal, Monday May 20, 2013) stated that 50 million American’s self-reported an insufficient amount of sleep. Dr W. Christopher Winter, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va., concluded that it may not be as simple as catching up on lost sleep, but that scheduled naps are a better way of combating the sleep deprivation cycle.

Scheduling naps may not be a possibility for many people especially as work often does not allow us this luxury. So what are the implications for workplaces when it comes to sleep deprivation?

One very well-known workplace disaster that had a huge economic impact and attributed to a major human and environmental cost was the nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine (April 1986). Sleep experts believe the accident was partly a result of worker fatigue. Although this accident is at the very top of the spectrum it serves as a warning to us all that sleep deprivation increases the risk of workplace accidents.

The Australasian Sleep Association Response to “Australia the Healthiest Country by 2020” reported that not enough is being done to raise awareness regarding the dangers associated with sleep deprivation.

The Deliotte Access Economic Report “Re-awakening Australia – The economic cost of sleep disorders in Australia, 2010”,  estimated sleep disorders and sleep deprivation cost the nation more than $5.1 billion per year. Disorders such as Sleep Obstructive Apnoea (SOA) weigh in very heavily as a major area of concern, however inadequate sleep duration is a major contributor to this figure. Getting inadequate sleep is often a lifestyle choice.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians reported that 17 hours of sustained wakefulness is associated with a psychomotor impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. This increases to 0.08% for 24 hours of inadequate sleep.

Most of us wouldn’t get into a car with someone who has consumed enough alcohol to tip them over the legal limit, yet we may inevitably drive with someone who is fatigued, it is little wonder that up to 20% of motor vehicle accidents occur as a result of driver fatigue and most of these are single car accidents.

We are still a long way from knowing the exact impact fatigue has on work performance but there is evidence to suggest that poor performance in some sectors has grave consequences. A simple solution for most would be to just get enough sleep.

© SRC Solutions 2013

The links below provide additional information on this topic.

http://www.abc.net.au/science/sleep/facts.htm

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-performance-and-public-safety

http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/