Sleep: Why We Need It

Sleep: Why We Need It

Sleep: Why We Need It

This blog continues ElderCare at Home’s attempt to describe the complex nature of sleep and its importance for everyone, especially family caregivers. We have based this writing on The Guardian’s recently published article on Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist who studies the nature of sleep and why human beings need it.

Would you believe that in the 1940s less than 8% of people (in the UK) were trying to get by on six hours of sleep or less per night. Today, the figure is almost 1 out of every two people.[1] Similar trends are happening in other countries, like the U.S. What is going on?

According to Matthew Walker, there is indeed a sleep epidemic that is negatively impacting people in the West. There are numerous reasons why people are getting less sleep. One reason is that technology is keeping us from falling asleep. Our bodies respond to the fluctuations of light outside of us. Because we are surrounded by artificial lights, smart phones, computers, and televisions, our bodies become confused and the appropriate chemicals released in our bodies that tell us to sleep get delayed. Not only that, but the light being emitted from TV screens, computers, and cell phones influences the quality of sleep we get. So not only does it increase the chances that we are awake longer, it also means we are not sleeping as deeply. A second reason is because many people in the U.S. and Europe are overworked. Whether that means you are staying extra hours at your job, or you are balancing many responsibilities, like caregiving, it all leads to sleep loss. Interestingly, Walker even brings up a cultural component that might contribute to decreased sleep: People associate it with weakness and shame. In the U.S., where a sturdy work ethic is inculcated into many of its citizens, people are told that it is lazy to sleep, that we should work harder and harder for the things we want. Ironically, a lack of sleep leads to decreased performance at work and mental impairment.

Why is lack of sleep so bad?  

Even if the exact reason of why humans sleep is unknown, we do know that lack of it leads to serious health problems. There are links between sleep deprivation and obesity, decreased mental health, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.[2]  Middle aged adults (45 years or older) who sleep less than six hours are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime. When we lack sufficient sleep, cells that are responsible for attack cancer become less active. Sleep is also responsible for cleansing the brain of amyloid deposits, the toxic proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. The less sleep aging adults get, the more plaque deposits in the brain, degrading it, and in turn causing poorer sleep quality, leading to more plaque buildup, and so on until it’s too late. There is a litany of examples we can give as to why less sleep is a life killer, but the overall point is to make sure you prioritize sleeping.

Here are five important things to remember:

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep, ideally 8 or 9 hours
  • Always go to bed at the same time
  • Avoid bright screens or stressful/busy activities at least an hour before bed, so you can relax and unwind to fall asleep
  • Avoid all-nighters
  • Remind yourself that sleeping is a crucial component to your overall health and work activity

If you have any more questions, feel free to call ElderCare at Home at 888-285-0093 or visit our website.

[1] Source: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/24/why-lack-of-sleep-health-worst-enemy-matthew-walker-why-we-sleep?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

[2] Source: Ibid.

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