According to the Florida Sleep Disorder Center, more than 100 million, or over one-third of the United States population of all ages “regularly fail to get a good night’s sleep.” Lack of sleep hinders memory and learning processes and puts the individual who is sleep deprived at risk to a number of short- and long-term effects.
Cornell Psychologist James Mass. PhD explained, “Most college students average just a little over six hours of sleep each night.” Such minimal sleep does not allow for enough REM-sleep, a stage of sleep that is crucial in restoration of cells and reorganization of the brain. REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, sleep is one of five sleep stages in a normal sleep cycle. One sleep cycle lasts between 90-110 minutes, repeating throughout the night. As the night, and sleep cycles, continue, the REM stage duration gets longer.
“Insufficient sleep can be extremely dangerous, leading to serious or even fatal accidents,” warns the National Sleep Foundation. Both The Automobile Association of America and The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have estimated that over 100,000 auto crashes occur annually due to “fatigue-related” incidences. According to the NSF, “Sleep-deprived drivers cause more than 1,500 deaths and tens of thousands of injuries and lasting disabilities.” The NSF continues, “This problem has been found to affect drivers aged 25 or under more than any other age group.”
“Alcohol exacerbates the effects of sleep deprivation,” wrote Helmut S. Shmidt, M.D. in a letter to the editor of “Psychiatric News.” He explained that for a sleep-deprived person, after a night of only four hours of sleep, one beer can have the effect of “a six pack when not sleep deprived.”
What are the short term affects of sleep deprivation? According to “Fundamentals of Psychology,” by Stephen M. Kosslyn, symptoms vary with each individual. These can include suppression of the immune system, which can lead to a high amount of colds, as well as depression and fatigue, mood swings, increased possibility of making mistakes, increased risks of traffic accidents, and greatly exaggerated effects of alcohol consumption.
The long term effects include poor academic performance, memory lapses and impairment and lowered immunity to colds and the flu. Caffeine works to hinder you; in fact, over-consumption can be harmful to your nervous system, kidneys and heart. Other long term effects of sleep deprivation include increased risks of obesity, hypertension, Type II Diabetes and sleep disorders.
If you find yourself nodding off at in-opportune times, the NSF offers tips for managing a sleep-deprived life: (1) Power naps! Sleep only for 15-20 minutes; (2) Sleep for the duration of an average sleep cycle, about 90 minutes; (3) Maintain a healthy diet; (4) Exercise regularly; (5) Manage time so that al-nighters never have to be pulled; and (6) Avoid caffeine, exercise and alcohol before bedtime.