Recently, Ryan Bergara, a Buzzfeed staff member, underwent an experiment. He cut his sleep back to only five hours per day, including two twenty-minute naps. I'm not sure how long this experiment was supposed to last, but Ryan only hacked it for seven days. HA! Every parent everywhere is laughing at this guy. Personally, I've averaged 5 hours of sleep for the last three years. Since my kids sleep through the night (HALLELUJAH!), those are five uninterrupted hours. For a parent, that's pretty good sleep! All joking aside, sleep deprivation is a really serious health issue. Chronic sleep deprivation - the kind that lasts more than seven days, Ryan - is slowly killing parents. That's not hyperbole.
Short-Term Sleep Deprivation Causes Mental Fog
The main symptom of sleep deprivation is, unsurprisingly, daytime drowsiness. As Bergara recounts in his summary of the experiment, mental fog also sets in. Those who are typically sharp and witty have slower response times - so much slower it's easily noticeable! This fogginess makes it difficult to concentrate. Specifically, it inhibits the brain's ability to focus. Adults who cannot focus, who are functioning in a mental fog, who are living on auto-pilot are more likely to cause automobile accidents. Sleep-deprived parents often feel hyper-stimulated because they struggle to focus their attention and shut out background noise. Within days, short-term memory begins to falter. Confusion, over-stimulation, and fogginess make people cranky and miserable. Even if a person gets poor sleep for just one day, their brain and mood will suffer. Parents don't just lose sleep one day a week, though! Every hour of missed sleep creates sleep debt.
Chronic Sleep Deprivation Can Cause Lifelong Illness
While the effects of two days of sleep deprivation might seem scary enough, things get even more horrifying over time. Chronic sleep deprivation creates a sleep deficit, a debt that your body carries over every day you lose sleep. Like a credit card with a crappy interest rate, this debt piles up faster than you can pay it off with sleep. Calculate your sleep debt by subtracting your average hours of sleep from eight (the recommended hours of sleep for adults). Multiple the difference, Y, by the number of days you've kept this average sleep cycle. For me, it's Y x 365 days per year x 3 years. I'm running on a 137 DAY sleep deficit. No one has time to sleep for over four months straight.
I'd like to add: my kids sleep through the night. I still only get five hours of sleep.
But what is going to happen if I keep running on this limited sleep? Nothing good. Sleep allows your immune system to recharge. Under sleep deprivation, you are more vulnerable to viruses and bugs. My specific sleep schedule, five hours or less, increases my risk for high blood pressure. In addition to rebooting the immune system, adequate sleep helps insulin lower blood glucose overnight. Which - you guessed it - increases your risk for type 2 diabetes! On top of that, chronically exhausted people are more likely to gain weight. The body's hormonal signals for hunger and satiation get thrown off balance without eight hours of restorative sleep. When we combine weight gain, high blood pressure, and diabetes, life expectancy drops drastically. Yes, I said it. Sleep deprivation is literally slowly killing us.
What Does An Ideal Sleep Schedule Look Like?
The ideal sleep schedule is one without children. Ha! I'm joking, but I'm also not joking. Every new parent is sleep deprived and running on fumes. Most physicians recommend a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night, with a preference for eight hours or more. This eight-hour ideal only applies to adults - kids and teens require ten to twelve hours of sleep. Bergara was trying to adapt to a "polyphasic" sleep cycle where he slept over four hours per night with two short naps during the day. Despite the cult following for polyphasic sleep, doctors warn it may cause serious damage to a person's health. Don't buy into the hype! Do your best to get eight hours of sleep per day. If you rack up a sleep debt, try to pay it off regularly by scheduling a weekly "sleep debt day" - a day where your goal is to sleep in, go to bed early, or nap.
I'm going to go start chipping away at this sleep debt I've racked up right now! Wait...I forgot I have kids. Never mind. I'll just suffer through these early years. Someday, my kids might let me sleep in on Saturdays. Until then, I'll just rub the last two brain cells I have together and hope it makes a spark. Sleep well, friend!
Tell me how many hours of sleep you get on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3 with #SleepDeprivationLooksLike.