Since the birth of our little guy last year, my wife and I have lost sleep. We understand that’s part of the deal, but this awareness doesn’t do much to eliminate the effects of inadequate sleep. Fortunately, our situation is temporary. But for 40 million Americans, poor sleep has become a regular problem. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60% of adults and 69% of children experience sleep problems at least a few nights a week.
Why Sleep Matters
Poor sleep doesn’t just mean being a little tired. Sleep is essential to the maintenance of a healthy body and mind. Studies show that on average, adults need eight hours of quality sleep per night. Various findings reported on the American Psychological Association’s website indicate a correlation between poor sleep and cardiovascular problems in adults.
Research has also found that sleep-deprived teens make poorer decisions and take greater risks. Tired teens fall asleep in the classroom, and falling asleep while driving accounts for more than 50,000 teen automobile crashes each year. One study shows young teens with poor preschool sleep habits were twice as likely to use drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. Dr. Jeremy Cole, a sleep medicine specialist in Edmond believes there may be a link between poor sleep and childhood/teen obesity. Inadequate sleep also affects insulin levels and weight gain.
Now that we know the importance of sleep, how do we determine if we are getting enough? Depending on their developmental stage, children may require more sleep than adults. For example children ages 7-12 need approximately 9.5 hours of sleep nightly. Because sleep requirements vary from person to person, it might be wise to start with the average need and then look for signs of insufficient sleep.
Signs and Causes of Sleep Deprivation
In addition to a growing pile of empty energy drink cans, there are multiple and progressive signs of sleep deprivation. Most people are aware that mild deprivation can cause irritability. Moderate loss of sleep can bring on apathy, slowed speech, impaired memory, and flat emotion. Serious sleep deprivation may result in 5- to 10-second micro-sleeps, sometimes while reading or driving. Severe sleep deprivation can even bring about hallucinations.
Numerous factors contribute to poor sleep. Lifestyle issues like unresolved stress, an irregular sleep schedule, or consuming an excess of alcohol or caffeine before bed can affect the quality and quantity of sleep. Medical problems such as sleep apnea, snoring, and night terrors should be evaluated by a physician.
What if Problems Persist?
If sleep is a problem, consider lifestyle changes like reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol consumption, going to bed at the same time each night, and waking at the same time each morning. If you are unsuccessful in initiating or maintaining change, you may want to consult a mental health professional. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a technique that explores the thoughts and behaviors that could be robbing you of essential sleep. Multiple studies indicate that CBT works better and lasts longer than medication alone for many problems, including disrupted sleep. In diagnosed sleep disorders, medical doctors can prescribe medication, devices, or procedures to help address the problem.
Obviously sleep has physical and emotional benefits that warrant attention, so make sleeping a priority.
Clinton A. Lewis, PsyD, works as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the Counseling and Consulting Offices of Paul Tobin, PhD, and Ann Benjamin, MEd. His special areas of interest include therapy with adolescents, adults, and families and sport consultation with coaches and athletes. Contact him at 405-340-4321.