It has happened to each and every one of us. After a night spent staring at the clock next to our bed or tossing and turning and fluffing the pillow, the alarm goes off and it’s time to wake up. One of your big concerns as you faced your insomnia was about how you’d feel throughout the next day, and now you’re facing that reality. You’re irritated, exhausted and bleary-eyed before you even step foot out of the bed, and you know that once your day starts things aren’t going to get any better. This is the legacy of a bad night’s sleep.
Having insomnia and missing out on sleep has multiple impacts on us. The lack of appropriate rest – whether in terms of quantity, quality, or both – has an impact on our physical wellbeing, our mental acuity, and our emotional stability. Some of the physical symptoms of sleep deprivation develop over a long period of time, while others, including reaction time and our ability to focus, are immediately apparent after just one night of poor sleep. Interestingly, as our body’s ability to think clearly or act purposefully kicks in, so do our emotions. As we become aware of the fact that we’re not functioning the way that we normally do and that we’re struggling with routine tasks, we become more emotional. Lack of sleep has a significant impact on our ability to cope with our every day responsibilities, and can interfere with both our professional relationships and our personal ones.
The old phrase about “getting up on the wrong side of the bed” may sound funny, but there’s a lot of truth to the idea that when we are short on sleep we can quickly become difficult to be around. Whether the unfortunate witnesses to our sleep-deprivation selves are our colleagues, our kids, our spouses or the kid working the cash register at the local convenience store, they’re seeing a side to us that neither they nor we like… and it’s all a result of not getting the sleep that we need.
When lack of sleep is a result of some kind of stress that we’re undergoing, or a physical problem like sleep apnea or insomnia, there is a reasonable excuse and often a medical solution. But when we aren’t getting the sleep we need because we’re choosing to stay up late playing video games, texting with old college chums, or burning the midnight oil for a work project, we are making a conscious decision to forego rest, and therefore to put ourselves and the people that we encounter during the day at risk of our short-temper, muddy thinking, and compromised decision-making skills. As a society we need to put more effort into making sleep as high a priority as good diet and exercise.
Sleep is a topic that needs to begin being addressed in schools in the same way that we teach our kids the food pyramid and make them do jumping jacks in their gym classes. All of us need to become much more aware of the good that sleep does for us physically and mentally, as well as of the risks that we take when we choose our social lives or business lives over even one hour of sleep. The underestimation of sleep’s importance is an after-effect of the industrialization of our society – before the light bulb was invented and modern electronics followed, our forebears were getting at least two hours more sleep per night than we are now, and the sleep that we are allowing ourselves is proving to be inadequate. British researchers have recently referred to the decisions that we are making about sleep as “supreme arrogance” for which society is paying a price in terms of health and safety.When you combine the choices that are being made with the various sleep disorders that are robbing millions of their sleep, our society is being hit on all sides by the ill effects of sleep deprivation – a problem that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have referred to as a national epidemic.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of sleep deprivation, including drowsiness during the day, muddy thinking, and forgetfulness, there are a number of tests that can be done to determine how much sleep you are getting and what the appropriate treatment for your particular problem may be. Apps are available for smart phones at no cost that can give you the most basic information, and your physician may refer you to a sleep center for a sleep test if there is suspicion of a physical problem such as obstructive sleep apnea. Excellent and effective treatments are available, ranging from sleep aid medication to oral appliances to CPAP machines, all of which can help restore you to getting the sleep that you need and improved health.
As important as it is to determine whether your sleep problems are caused by some kind of underlying physical illness, stress, or unconscious bad habit in terms of your sleep hygiene, it is also important that you take the time to examine your own behaviors honestly in order to assess whether you are tired because of bad choices that you are making about when to go to sleep at night and when to awaken in the morning. One way to do this is to start keeping a sleep journal in which you jot down your activities from after dinner each evening through the time you wake up in the morning. Make sure that you keep track of what you are doing, from any exercise that you may be doing to what kind of television show you are watching. Mark down when you turn the lights off and go to bed, and if you are reading or watching television or sending emails while in bed make sure that you put that in the journal too. An honest review of the choices that you’re making may reveal a great deal about why you’re’ so tired – then you can decide whether your bad mood the next day and the way that you’re making those around you feel is really worth it.