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Economic Woes Can Cause A Sleep Deprivation Spiral

Worries about the economy, building credit bills, job insecurity and other money woes have been shown to have a direct impact on a person’s ability to sleep, and with studies showing that sleep deprivation has a devastating impact on memory and overall performance, the outlook for those concerned about losing their job’s is not good. A study conducted by NetDoctor found that the worse the economy grows, the less sleep people are likely to get.

The study was conducted following a period in which the online company had noticed that people were increasingly searching for information on how to treat insomnia. Intrigued by the spike, they decided to conduct a poll that involved nearly 1,000 mean and women in the United Kingdom, and nearly half indicated that their sleep quality and quantity had deteriorated over the previous year. Twenty percent said that they were chronically getting less than five hours of sleep per night, and 25 percent said that they were prone to waking up several times during the course of each night. When asked what was keeping them up, nearly two thirds indicated that they were worried about money or work; thirty percent said that their partner’s snoring was to blame.

What seemed universal was that among those who weren’t sleeping well, there was an almost universal wish that they could get back to sleeping eight hours or more per night, but nearly twenty percent said it simply wasn’t in the cards. When asked about how long it took to actually get to sleep each night, one in ten indicated that the process took at least two hours and sometimes more. Among those who were experiencing intermittent awakenings, 63 percent said that it was difficult for them to get back to sleep.

In an attempt to help those who are suffering, NetDoctor has provided advice from an independent adviser, Dr. Roger Henderson, who says, “Sleep-related problems are surprisingly common, and something we all experience from time to time However, the results reveal a worrying increase in the number of people suffering from sleep problems. It is important to remember that there are a number of simple ways in which to ensure a more restful night’s sleep. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and opt for a milky drink such as hot chocolate.”

NetDoctor is not the only organization that has noted the trend of concern and interest about sleep that comes with an economic downturn. The Sleep Council’s Jessica Alexander says her organization has seen the same thing. “Worry and stress affects people’s sleep. The troubled economy and threats of recession have created mass panic and hysteria even among people not directly affected yet. The approach we would take is to try to encourage people to find ways to relax before bedtime. It is different for every person, but you might try having a warm bath or reading a book – anything that breaks your train of thought. And if you find you are lying in bed tossing and turning, sometimes it is better to get out of bed and do something different until you are sleepy.”

Being able to defeat sleeplessness is essential for those who have economic concerns, as the negative impact of sleep deprivation could make them vulnerable to reduced performance and issues of forgetfulness that might make an employer likely to select them during a downsizing. Recent studies done on laboratory animals have found that there are physical changes that occur within the brain’s molecular pathways, and though an employee may believe they are able to counter the effect of sleeplessness through lots of coffee, the changes have an actual impact on both memory and learning.

The more that researchers investigate sleep and rest, the more clear it becomes that sleep is an essential factor in our memory’s function. One study has linked the impact to a specific enzyme that is overproduced in lab animals that have been prevented from sleeping. This enzyme, called PDE4, was found in much higher levels in the hippocampus of sleep-deprived mice, and at the same time there were reduced levels of a molecule called cAMP, which is known to play an important role in our ability to form the brain connections that accompany the act of learning. Another study showed that though a sleep deprived brain may in fact be able to function normally for specific periods of time, and can even finish tasks quickly, these periods are mixed with intervals of slow response, as well as drops in the ability to process images and reduced attention spans. This is a particular concern because people who are sleep deprived may believe that they are functioning normally and yet may be dangerously inattentive, and may even fall asleep.

According to lead researcher Professor Michael Chee of the National University of Singapore, “The periods of apparently normal functioning could give a false sense of competency and security when, in fact, the brain’s inconsistency could have dire consequences.”

The study was a collaborative effort between his school and Duke University, and found that though some simple visuals are able to be processed easily be a sleep-deprived brain, more complex images that require the use of “higher visual areas” are not functioning as well, and this could put the worker at risk of making critical mistakes, particularly if they are operating heavy machinery or driving a vehicle. Their study was aided by the use of magnetic resonance imaging, which provided them with a clear measure of blood flow in the brain.

Dr. Clifford Saper of Harvard University described this phenomenon as being like a blackout, saying, “The main finding is that the brain of the sleep-deprived individual is working normally sometimes, but intermittently suffers from something akin to power failure.”

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