Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are becoming a standard way of 21st century life, with approximately 25% of US citizens taking sleeping pills or other sleep-inducing medication to help them nod off each night. We all know that even two hours less sleep a night makes a huge difference to the way we feel in the short term, but what about long term too?
Babies and teenagers need the longest night's sleep of all humans and the elderly need the least. There's a simple answer to why this is and it's directly linked to what sleep actually does for us. When we are unconscious our brain repairs itself and the nervous system too. Because babies and teenagers are going through a period of intense growth (especially babies whose nervous systems are still developing) they need to sleep a great deal and they even have different sleep patterns to adults.
Sadly for adults it's a baby's different sleeping patterns and different feeding routine that causes sleep deprivation, especially with infants under 6 months. Then again with teenagers, their reluctance to come home at the specified time means parents are awake and worrying until the unsightly hours of the morning. While this doesn't have such a devastating effect as it might on a young infant, sleep deprivation can cause depression and mood disorders in the short term and increased susceptibility to serious health conditions in the long term. /even our immune systems don't get a chance to recharge so we may find ourselves catching colds and stomach bugs more often.
This area of science and cognitive psychology is certainly not one that's been neglected. Studies have linked low levels of sleep with high risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Then again, our stress levels have been rising on the whole and this affects CHD, diabetes and high blood pressure too. Is there a link? Most probably! While parents and primary caregivers might suffer from sleep deprivation they may benefit from a calmer and less demanding lifestyle, compared to business managers who are constantly struggling against deadlines and keeping disgruntled employees happy. Couple going home and lying in bed awake worrying about a meeting in the morning with a poor diet of fast food and takeaways to save time and you have a recipe for disaster in later life.
It makes sense to conclude that while sleep deprivation is less than ideal, it has also been proven to not hurt a great deal. A study of over one million US citizens showed that those who got 6 or 7 hours sleep a night rather than 8 actually had a longer life span. So if we're losing a couple of hours sleep every night we should try and make sure it's for the right reasons. Of course, the ironic thing is that lying in bed worrying about not getting enough sleep is still the worst thing to do. Our advice is to get up, read a book and snack on a healthy banana until you drop off naturally.