By Jacob Scharf
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question!
If the “continuum ideology” of sleep is true, this means that 0-6 hours is insufficient while 7-9 hours is ample sleep to be fully functional throughout one’s day. Though it may be a hasty generalization, it’s clear that many people fall short in reaching an appropriate amount of sleep on a regular basis.
Without sleep one can not only experience short-term cognitive impairments, rather sleep deprivation also puts one at risk for more serious, long term physical illnesses.
In a study published in the National Institute of Health, authors noted a blatant dysfunctioning of “attention and working memory… long-term memory and decision-making” in those who experience sleep deprivation.
Surprise! Lack of sleep equals lack of attention, who knew? This should come as no shock, although to speak as a member of the sleep-deprived population, we often do not see the long-term consequences of our patterns and actions. Personally speaking, coffee might as well be replaced for the water in the water fountain where I study at Binghamton University!
Caffeine and the Sleep Cycle
There are health consequences associated with constant coffee ingestion. Coffee is high in the stimulant caffeine, which is known to increases heart rate, blood pressure, and if drinking too close to bedtime, it can disrupt one’s sleep patterns. The half life of caffeine (the time it takes for the body to eliminate half of the caffeine ingested) is approximately 5 hours.
As I see it, drinking coffee creates a compensating feedback loop something like this:
People stay up too late and need to drink coffee to compensate for lack of sleep the next day. In turn, the coffee ingested during the day to ‘stay awake’ furthers this sleep dysfunction. The result? Coffee becomes somewhat of a crutch and a hindrance to one’s daily sleep habits, in effect becoming a cause and a perceived ‘solution’ to our sleeplessness.
Therefore, the fact that coffee may perpetuate sleep difficulties should not go unnoticed or ignored by those suffering from sleep deprivation, because the consequence of this perpetual cycle of disturbed sleep can create metastatic behaviour, resulting in potential long-term health problems.
While the benefits of adequate sleep include increased energy and brain function, the health problems associated with sleep deprivation are not limited to attention and cognitive deficits. Described in an article published in The Huffington Post, long term sleep deprivation puts you at risk of the following serious health conditions, among others:
- Some cancers
- Heart disease
- Lowered sperm count
- Impaired immunity
- Higher levels of stress
Whether the effects of sleeplessness impede your ability to reproduce, or make you ill with heart disease, such a basic human need as sleep need not be the cause of any health concerns.
How to get more sleep!
If sleep is such an elementary, effortless function, why is it so hard for so many of us to achieve? This can be answered in one simple word — time.
At the end of each workday, you have a window of opportunity to get to bed and get a good night’s sleep; if you miss that opportunity at night time, usually, you don’t get a chance to catch up. You have places to be and things to do the following day. Unfortunately for some, this window of opportunity tends to become overly condensed due to perceived time pressures and commitments.
Although I may be hypercritical and possibly naive about how sleep is valued by our society, it is obvious there is a need for re-examination of how we prioritize sleep.
This should go without saying, but if finding the time for a good night’s sleep is a problem for you, leisure activities should be replaced by an extension of sleep time. This is not to say that there is no merits to indulging in activities for relaxation and enjoyment, however, sleep should always take precedent over these activities because of its value in preventing short-term and long-term health difficulties.
By allowing ourselves the space and time for adequate sleep when designing one’s daily regimen, we encourage our bodies to return to their natural sleep cycles. Until then, here are some healthier ways to cope the following day without resorting to coffee:
• Drink green tea, which has much less caffeine, instead of coffee.
• Stick to a healthy diet even when you feel like eating junk food.
• Skip anything with “energy” on the label. Energy drinks are loaded with caffeine and sugar. Energy bars are candy bars in disguise.
• If you feel tired during the day, take a nap but keep it short. A long one will have you up at night. Again.
• You set an alarm to wake up… Why not set an alarm to remind you when it is time to go to bed?
Given the importance of sleep to our health and wellbeing, sleep shouldn’t be condensed into an insufficient timeframe at night. In the timeline of one’s day, it’s important to allot an appropriate amount of time for sleep, to optimize one’s psychological and physiological requirements and ensure we are able to function at our best.
For more information on improving your sleep cycles, please see:
- Trouble Sleeping? Get the Restful Sleep You Need… Without Dangerous Sleeping Pills
- 10 Food Tips To Get Off the Poor Sleep Treadmill
Also by Jacob Scharf:
- Feed Your Brain What It Needs
- Enhancing Neurotransmitter Production Naturally
- Is Your Brain Firing As It Should?
About the author:
While my area of study focuses on neuroscience, I have become enamored with a variety of topics outside of the medicine ‘mumbo jumbo’. Along the way, I have created articles on different internationally known outlets including, Wake Up World, The Jerusalem Post, psychcentral.com and many more. I have always found that writing is not only one of my unique skills, but it is also an enjoyable hobby that I’ve always looked to expand. Through my website, I hope to offer you interesting content through your suggestions.
You can read more of Jacob’s writing at www.scharpmind.com.