With all the juggling you do between career, family and just plain house upkeep and chores, do you ever think to yourself, "Oh, well, I'll sleep when I'm dead"? While there are a million excuses of why you can't get a good night sleep – cue the litany of baby waking up in the middle of the night, sick kids, finishing the laundry and making the lunches, and don't forget completing that project due in the morning –Dr. Philip Gehrman, a sleep expert and assistant professor in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, tells Philly.com that there is no substitute for sleep. Although you say that you will sleep when you are dead only tongue in cheek, the scary truth is that you do real damage to your health when you don't get the proper zzzz's.
Why is sleep so important?
You know from direct experience that without a good night sleep, you have less energy and trouble focusing on the day, but there are other less obvious effects as well.
According to Dr. Gehrman, "In terms of metabolism, when we don't get a good night of sleep, it causes release of hormones that trigger cravings for high fat, high carb foods. There has been growing evidence that consistently not getting a good night sleep increases the chance of obesity."
And we know that these behaviors also lead to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other health issues that could lead to premature death.
Lack of sleep has also been linked to the onset of Alzheimer's disease. "It affects our ability to regulate our emotions. Recent research has found that during sleep is when our brain clears out buildup of the waste products of our metabolism. One of those products is beta-amyloid that builds up in Alzheimer's disease. If this is true, then not getting enough sleep can increase your chance of dementia," he explained.
"Our sleep seems really critical for memory as well. It is harder to retain information that we learn on less sleep because our REM and non-REM sleep cycles are interrupted," he said.
How to get a better night sleep
Dr. Gehrman agrees with the CDC recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. He feels that without it you will end up with a sleep debt that will just grow every day. Here are some simple tips he gives for having a more restful night:
When I asked Dr. Gehrman what people should do when their life – single parent, demanding career – prevents you from getting the recommended amount of sleep each night, he wasn't able to give me a solution for the modern dilemma of overscheduled lives. He insists that there are no substitutes for sleep.
"Napping and catching up on sleep on the weekend is certainly better than nothing, but it is still not a substitute for a regular night of sleep. A lot of people think they can get used to living with a lack of sleep, but we lose the ability to judge our mental impairment when we do," he said.