Our lives are busy, from working a full time job, taking care of ourselves and our families, going to the gym, cooking, cleaning, somehow making time for fun, it is exhausting! When do we sleep? Is sleep even that important? “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” seems to be the mantra of everyone, not just the “crazy” youth. Full time workers and parents are choosing to stay up late to watch one more episode of Breaking Bad or Doc Martin, instead of catching up on their Z’s. But unlike college where this would be classified as “bad time management”, now it is just life, sacrificing sleep to enjoy even just a few hours of the day outside of our responsibilities.
However, sleep is inherently important to both our cognitive and physical development and maintenance. When we sleep our body temperature regulates, melatonin is released, our muscles are relaxed and begin to heal, and even our brain is given a rest to think for itself while our consciousness sleeps. Our sleeping consists of 90 minute cycles of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement). Contrary to popular belief, REM sleep occurs least during the night and is the only time of the night when we dream. REM sleep merely bolsters all the good that happens during NREM. NREM sleep makes up most of the 90 minute cycle and consists of 4 stages, with stages 3 and 4 being the most beneficial to our health. During stages 1 and 2 our bodies cool down, our heart rate regulates, our breathing deepens, and we are prepared for the healing administered during stages 3 and 4. Once we get to stage 3 the sleep is the deepest and most restorative as our blood pressure drops, blood supply increases, tissue growth and repair occurs, and all of our necessary hormones are released. After a full 8 hours of sleeping we will wake up alert, full of serotonin (aka happy), and most of our aches and pains will be gone. Sounds like a dream come true right?
When was the last time you got 8 full hours of sleep? Now we’re lucky to get even 3 hours of undisturbed sleep, and that’s if we can even fall asleep! Falling asleep and maintaining sleep is incredibly difficult in our plugged in world. Our bodies are programmed to become tired when the sun sets and it gets dark outside, but with the advent of artificial light and now blue light from cell phones, televisions, and even e-readers, our mind is more awake than ever at the wrong time. It’s fine, we tell ourselves, I’ll make up lost sleep on the weekend. Unfortunately you can’t make up sleep when you’re already deprived.
Lack of sleep is very dangerous and causes a slew of cognitive impairments as well as physical ones. When we are sleep deprived we open ourselves up to muscle tearing, weight gain, sleeping disorders, and mental illness. Those who are sleep deprived are more likely to develop heart disease, breathing problems, and have a much higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In the short term sleep deprivation effects our perception, motor skills, emotional control, decision making, and memory. Equally, if not more troubling are the health impacts in the long term. We become more prone to metabolic and endocrine problems, diabetes, we decrease our immune function and could increase the risk of multiple types of cancer. We speed up our cognitive decline and increase the risk of dementia. Lack of sleep has also been proven to be a factor in developing depression and other mental disabilities.
Think back to when you opened your eyes this morning- yes, a painful memory I know, your alarm blaring, scratching at your eardrums, the sun vehemently searing your outer lids (if you’re lucky and the sun is up when you awaken), that feeling of immense exhaustion, lifting open your eyelids is as difficult as Atlas hoisting the earth onto his shoulders. This overall feeling of grogginess has a WebMD approved term, Sleep Inertia. Defined as “groggy with a lack of mental clarity”, sleep inertia should dissipate around 15-20 minutes after waking up. The newest trend in our society is “chronic sleep inertia”, sleep inertia that does not dissipate and follows us into the early afternoon, causing unpleasant and even dangerous results.
We all want to be productive and effective at what we do. But when we boost productivity by expanding our waking hours, we aren’t helping anyone. We’re putting sleep deprived people on the road, we’re accelerating our own demise mentally and physically, and we’re compromising our own responsibilities and capabilities. We are less productive, less insightful, less happy, and more likely to get sick. And most of the time we don’t even realize how much we’ve hurt ourselves by skimping on our rest. For example if you sleep six hours a night for twelve days your cognitive and physical performance becomes practically indistinguishable from that of someone who has been awake for twenty four hours straight. The kicker? The performance of someone who has been awake for twenty four hours straight is similar to that of someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.
As a nation we systematically undervalue sleep, something that is fundamental to our present and future performance. Do yourself a favor and start sleeping. No one else can do it for you.
Tom Curcio, the driving force behind Curcio Law, is a dedicated trial lawyer with more than 35 years of experience in Northern Virginia. He has dedicated his career to representing people who have been seriously injured through no fault of their own. He works tirelessly to obtain the compensation his clients are legally entitled to…
Rakin Hamad is a recent graduate of the George Mason Law School and joined Curcio Law as an associate in August 2018. Rakin works closely with Tom Curcio and staff in preparing cases from the initial client meeting through trial and has been a perfect fit for the firm. During law school, Rakin interned at…
Julia Martinez, a Florida native, joined Curcio Law as a paralegal in 2013. She began her legal career in 1998 working at a personal injury firm that primarily handled automobile accidents, slip and falls, and products liability cases. Then, in 2008 she expanded her knowledge by working at two other law firms. She obtained her…
As the firm’s office manager, Kathy McAfee is dedicated to making sure the office runs smoothly and that the team has what it needs by way of resources, technology, and supplies to best serve our clients. Kathy graduated with a B.A. in Sociology from Roanoke College in 1986 and afterward, returned to Alexandria. She began…
Maureen Burke was born and raised in the Boston, Massachusetts area and relocated to the Alexandria area in 1984 where she and her husband raised their three children. Maureen graduated with a BS in Nursing from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire and an MS in Nursing from George Mason University. Maureen has worked at…
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