Guest Commentary Opinion

This generation can only dream of sleep

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Americans are not getting enough sleep. Specifically, young Americans are losing too much sleep, and the reasons are abundant.

There’s the constant electronic input from TV, computers and mobile devices. This generation is practically married to these devices. Additionally, artificial lighting, overclocked lifestyles and the constant business of the modern age has swept up young people worldwide.

Let’s not forget the endless supply of sugar and energy drinks that college students and young professionals rely on to work into the late hours of the night to meet strenuous deadlines.

Chronic sleep loss does not kill you immediately but rather by degrees and over time. Many sleep habits established in your youth carry on into middle age. This means good or bad, your current sleep habits will affect your health in the long term. Chronic sleep debt can shorten life expectancy significantly. For this reason, the YOLO (You Only Live Once) lifestyle ruins health, shortens lives and wrecks thinking along with physical ability. 

Over the years, much has been learned about sleep and sleep loss. Shift workers who work at night have sleep disruptions that can result in stress, high blood pressure and even heart attacks.  People who stay up all night playing video games, texting, watching TV or studying are placing themselves under similar risks without necessity. Unfortunately, it is difficult to assess your own level of wakefulness. Tragically, the only way that some people understand the situation is after they wreck their car, and that is if they survive the accident.

Driving while sleep deprived  is a major contributor to highway accidents. In fact, it is at par with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol as far as accident risk is concerned. What’s worse is chronic sleep debt can’t be resolved with just one solid night of catch up sleep.  Rather, it can take up to a full week for a person to fully recover from sleep deprivation.

Often, it is tempting to just power through and hang on for three more hours. Wise drivers recognize that when they start having micro-sleeps, it’s time to pull over.

Drowsy driving wrecks aren’t the only consequence of sleep deficit.  Your level of consciousness and capacity to pay attention while digesting new information in class can also be affected, resulting in poor academic performance.

Walking around in a constant state of sleepiness not only ruins physical health but mental health and attitude as well.

Missing out on sleep is a sure-fire ticket to chronic misery in more ways than one. The body needs sleep time to restore energy, regulate hormones and allow the brain to build new memories. Muscles and joints also need the downtime to repair themselves. 

A 17-year-old may feel that they are immune to all of this; that is, up until their immune system breaks down, and they get seriously ill. To be at your best, the National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.

While we do not live in a perfect world where this is always possible, the goal should be to strive for at least seven hours each night. Missing one or two nights will not make you sick, but it is enough to cause fatigue, affect your concentration and even alter your genes.

If you do have to miss sleep, make sure to make up for it as soon as possible. Napping and sleeping earlier the next night are good ways to do so.

Also, you’ll need to maintain a healthy diet, drink enough water and take multivitamins, because your body will need these extra provisions to help it cope with the sleep deficit. Be aware that good nutrition and supplements are not replacements for a solid, regular sleep routine. They’re only coping mechanisms.

Eventually, you’ll need to give your body the rest it desires.

Athletes thrive and survive under sufficient-quality, nightly rest. Without it, their performance on the field suffers. That is why LeBron James and Maria Sharapova get 10 or more hours of sleep daily.  While not everyone wants to be an athlete, your performance at work or in the classroom matters.

Sleep deprivation also negatively affects your relationships, whether it be with friends or family. Confusion, fatigue, constant lack of energy, depression and low stamina are all things that can be traced back to sleep debt. As such, you owe it to yourself to get your rest so that no matter what you do, you can be at your best.

Guest columnist Emma Lymn is the editor of Health Grinder, a nutrition and health blog. She can be reached at [email protected].  

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