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Many resign themselves to not getting enough sleep, while many others don't realize how much they need or what insufficient sleep does to the body and brain. Educating society about these facts is key to making changes that can result in a more rested—and therefore healthier and more productive—populace.
Your heavy-drinking partier friends have uttered a variation on the theme many, many times: There'll be plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead. But while that's all well and good if you don't care about how long or well you'll live, to anyone who really wants to make the most of her time on Earth, when it comes to waking life, more is not better.
As Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine outlines, in the short term, not getting enough sleep hurts judgment, diminishes the ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long-term, insufficient sleep has been linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, mood disorders, reduced immune function, and a shorter lifespan.
Nonetheless, Americans simply do not get a sufficient amount of sleep. Two reasons for this are quite simple: the general populous neither understands how important sleep is, nor knows how much is enough.
A September 2014 Time article neatly summarizes data pointing up part of the situation. For example, "Nearly 40% of adults have nodded off unintentionally during the day in the past month, and 5% have done so while driving," while "45% of teens don’t sleep the recommended nine hours on school nights, leading 25% of them to report falling asleep in class at least once a week."
Despite increasing knowledge about our need for sufficient amounts of sleep, the problem appears to be getting worse. Despite a general medical consensus that children ages 14 to 17 should get 8–10 hours of sleep per night, a nationwide survey conducted by researchers at Columbia University between 1991 and 2012 found that by the end of the survey period roughly one-third of that group reported not averaging even seven hours of sleep—up from roughly one-quarter at the beginning. Nonetheless, approximately 40% of that group reported believing that they were getting an adequate amount of sleep.
While it is clear that education about how much sleep we should all be getting is on order, many medical professionals are suggesting more drastic measures. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for example, has issued a recommendation that schooldays for middle- and high-school students begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common—and easily fixable—public health issues in the U.S. today,” says pediatrician Judith Owens, lead author of AAP's policy statement. “The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life.
For the last 17 years Rep. Zoe Lofgren has been fighting for legislation to make just such a change with her proposed "ZZZ’s to A’s Act."
“Students across the United States are not getting enough sleep at night – this affects not just their academic performance, but their health, safety, and well-being,” Lofgren says. “We know that as kids become teens their biology keeps them from getting to sleep early, makes it harder for them to wake up early in the morning, and necessitates additional sleep at night. As I have long advocated, and as the American Academy of Pediatrics recently confirmed, adjusting school start times can be an important tool to improve students’ health and performance."
Another strategy for ameliorating America's sleep problem is to embrace napping. A recent study suggests that at least some of the deleterious effects brought on by a night of insufficient sleep can be offset by a 30-minute nap the following day. Although the study was confined only to 11 healthy males between 25 and 32 years of age, researchers at the Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité found that, while a night with only two hours of sleep resulted in 250% higher levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine, the subjects' level of norepinephrine fell back to normal after they slept for a half-hour during the following afternoon.
"Napping may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover," says Brice Faraut, the study's lead author. "The findings support the development of practical strategies for addressing chronically sleep-deprived populations, such as night and shift workers."
There will be plenty of time to sleep when your dead, but that time may come sooner if you don't get enough sleep in the life, a life that will suffer in quality as a result. Parents, government, schools, and society as a whole need to better promulgate the importance of sleep and how much is enough. As of now children are getting the wrong message, and that message may hurt them for the rest of their lives.
About the Author:
Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California. Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing.
His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals. HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up. For more information: greggorymoore.com
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