You might be a little sick of the “science of sensationalism” as I like to put it. The constant barrage of scientific articles that say “If you don’t do ‘A’ correctly then the consequences ‘B’ are an increased risk of disease or death.” So let’s talk about lack of sleep in a realistic context today. Not just in strictly medical (I will give you the latest scientific research), but also in economic terms. First, a definition of insufficient nightly sleep from David Perlmutter, M.D., FACN, board certified neurologist and leader in the field of complementary medicine: “If you’re not getting between seven and eight hours of sleep most nights, you are probably not performing at your mental peak, and you are putting the health of your brain at risk” (The Better Brain Book by David Perlmutter, M.D.,FACN). Randy and I had the pleasure of meeting him at an Integrative Medicine Conference in 2000. It was part of a series of revelations on our path to a deeper understanding of total health.
The reason I feel compelled to give both the scientific and economic consequences associated with the lack of sleep is that I know we are all motivated by different goals at different times in our lives. When we are young (I’m saying 20s-40s) we have that spirit that nothing can get us down, we are indestructible AND we might also get by with a little lack of sleep and not suffer the consequences. I was guilty of this too.
When I had small children and was just getting my small business started and studying nutrition courses at night, one of the first casualties was sleep. I thought a little lack of sleep would be a small price to pay. I remember almost running off the road a couple of times because of this errant way of thinking. When we get a little older (50s and beyond), we don’t feel quite so indestructible. If we have skipped receiving proper sleep for years we are probably feeling the effects of it now, increasing our risks of disease and mortality. When you are older, however, you might think yourself out of needing sleep, wearing it like a badge of courage, saying “well, ya gotta die of something, I’ll take my chances with a little lack of sleep and increased risk of disease.
First, Why do we need sleep in the first place? Yes it refreshes and restores us (including our memories) after a hard day’s work, but what other physiologic reason is there for sleeping? A mouse study in Neuroscience aptly entitled Sleep allows brain to wash out junk brings home the point: “The trash, including pieces of proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease, piles up while the rodents are awake. Sleep opens spigots that bathe the brain in fluids and wash away the potentially toxic buildup.” Simply stated, sleep is the garbage disposal for our brains!
[private]Hormone balance is another reason to get the right amount of sleep, and the connection is weight related: Leptin and ghrelin function as the “gas & brake” dynamic duo hormones for appetite. Ghrelin is the “gas” that stimulates appetite; produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Leptin is the “brake” that sends a “full” signal to your brain; produced in fat cells. So what happens when you don’t get the right amount of sleep? Leptin’s production is diminished (that’s the hormone that signals that you are satiated) and it’s alter-ego ghrelin is put in overdrive, making you hungry. So there really is a strong relationship between lack of sleep and obesity. “One pivotal study at the University of Colorado in March showed that losing just a few hours of sleep a night in a row caused people to pack on an average of about two pounds (How Sleep Loss Adds to Weight Gain).”
Here are a few more tidbits from the literature to convince you:
1. In Insomnia linked to Higher Risk of Death, a study of 23,500 men showed “Over the 6 years of follow-up, men who reported having difficulty falling asleep and those suffering from non-restorative sleep had a 55% and 32% increased risk of death due to heart-related causes respectively, compared with men who did not report experiencing these sleep problems.”
2. The 5/13 journal of Sleep, analyzing 16 studies with more than 1.3 million participants, linking both too little (12% higher risk) and too much sleep (30% higher risk) to an increased rate of death.
3. In the 10/13 issue of JAMA Neurology, older adults lacking sleep had higher markers for Alzheimer’s disease: increased amounts of beta-amyloid. Beta-amyloid is the main component of amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer patients.
4. In the 1/14 online journal of Sleep, a study of 15 healthy, normal weight men were recruited to spend time in the sleep laboratory for 2 nights. The participants were not allowed to sleep the first night and slept for 8 hours the next night. Christian Benedict, lead investigating sleep researcher at Uppsala’s Dept. of Neuroscience noted, “We observed that a night of total sleep loss was followed by increased blood concentrations of NSE and S-100B.” These are brain- damaged molecules, specifically originating from sleep deprivation. The final results of these tests showed a 20% increase in those impaired brain molecules compared with measured levels after a good night’s sleep.
Convinced yet? I’m going to stop here. I think you get the point, Long-term lack of sleep will probably exclude you from the octogenarian club.
So how about the economics of sleep deprivation? In terms of workplace performance, think of this as another example of the Law of Diminishing Returns. This also applies to all of you students out there that think an “all-nighter” before the big exam is the answer. As you’ll see, it isn’t.
First, there are two main types of sleep: Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep (a/k/a Quiet Sleep) and Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (a/k/a Active Sleep). There are 5 stages of sleep. Stages 1-4 are those quiet sleep stages (NREM) and stage 5 is your active dream Sleep (REM sleep). Dr. Matthew Walker and a team sleep scientists at the University of California, Berkeley has been studying the complex relationship between sleep and memory and they’ve come up with some answers: “The non-REM stages of sleep seems to prime the brain for good learning the next day. If you haven’t slept, your ability to learn new things could drop by up to 40%. You can’t pull an all-nighter and still learn effectively.” (4/13 NIH News in Health). It is later in the sleep cycle that the REM (active) sleep cycle links all of those memories together. Further evidence by Walker and his colleagues showed that there was a 70% loss of deep sleep for those older than 60, compared to young adults 18-25. The culprit for memory lapses were then linked to reductions in deep sleep for the elderly.
So the Law of Diminishing Returns states:
diminishing returns, also called law of diminishing returns or principle of diminishing marginal productivity , economic law stating that if one input in the production of a commodity is increased while all other inputs are held fixed, a point will eventually be reached at which additions of the input yield progressively smaller, or diminishing, increases in output. (per the Encyclopedia Britannica).
1. Healthy Sleep Scenario- Your work or study time is the “input” in this exercise and you are increasing your input day-by-day in school or at the workplace with progressive recall that translates into effective output. The key in this example is getting the right amount of sleep (7-8 hours per night, at ANY age).
2. Sleep Deprived Scenario-You are again the “input” in this exercise, THINKING you are increasing your input day-by-day in school or at the workplace, but you are really not building on retained facts to make those effective decisions. Of course, in this example you’re not putting a priority on the right amount of sleep, you don’t think you have time for it, so you muddle through the day. As a result you experience the law of diminishing returns. You are putting out more and more effort, yet your workplace output is diminishing, due to lack of sleep.
Have I convinced you to put the right amount of nightly sleep as a top priority? I hope so. My next post will be my top “natural” recommendations for falling asleep. [/private]