How Sleep Affects Our Daily Lives

Worrying over the economy? Stressing out over your job? Fretting over the performance of your favorite sports team?

Sleep is critically important, but we sacrifice it all the time. Indeed, millions of us are not getting the sleep we need as we try to keep up with the demands of our fast-paced, technology-driven society.

Sleep is the body’s opportunity to recharge and fortify for the next day. When we sleep, our heart rates, blood pressure and breathing slow down.

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“Your mind actually releases neurotransmitters during REM sleep,” says Dr. Oswaldo Nicastro, medical director of Delaware Family Medicine at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington. “This causes somewhat of an anti-inflammatory effect in your body, soothing and calming your organs.”

In general, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Sleep deprivation occurs when you experience less than this amount on successive nights—or on occasion, get no sleep at all. And forget about building up a reserve or catching up on the weekend—once it’s lost, it’s lost, says Nicastro.

So what happens when your body doesn’t get enough sleep? In addition to making you feel plain old tired, sleep deprivation causes poor memory and judgment, irritability, depression and poor job performance. It can also reduce visual acuity and reaction time, making driving and walking hazardous. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez events were all linked to sleep deprivation.

Chronic lack of sleep can also put you at risk for illnesses and conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and heart attack, experts say. Recent research links sleep deprivation to an increased risk for cancer and dementia.

“We like to say that everyone requires at least eight hours of sleep a night for their body to function properly,” says Nicastro.

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