DISASTER EDUCATION — Sleep Impacts Mental and Physical Health

Turn off all devices while sleeping so there is no lighting up, dinging, vibrating or ringing. (Photo: Cassa Broomfield)
Turn off all devices while sleeping so there is no lighting up, dinging, vibrating or ringing. (Photo: Cassa Broomfield)

By Susan Harris, Extension Rural Health, Wellness and Safety Educator

How much sleep did you get last night? If you live in Nebraska, where current stress levels are high, there is about a 30% chance that it was less than seven hours and not enough for a body to recharge all its parts.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization have made it official: SLEEP DEPRIVATION IS A PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEM. Fifty years ago, Americans slept an hour to an hour and a half more than they do today. Some might be proud of accomplishing more in a day and sleeping less, but they should consider how the body deprives itself of crucial processes when that happens. While proper nutrition and physical activity rank right up there for overall health, sleep performs magic that no other activity does:

• Sleep flushes diseased and damaged bits of toxins and waste from our brains. It also performs a process called consolidation, which cements information learned throughout the day into the brain and retains it.

• Sleep plays a role in metabolism and helps control hunger hormones.

• Sleeping triggers tissue growth that heals injuries and creates virus-fighting cells to boost immunity to illness.

• Creativity, energy levels and positive moods increase with sleep, while it also fights stress.

• Muscles and organs rebuild critical cells during sleep.

One of the main symptoms of all sleep problems in adults is daytime sleepiness. Sometimes sleep deprivation will show itself in other ways, such as irritability, confusion, memory loss, concentration problems or depression. This can be deadly for producers using heavy equipment, handling chemicals or working with livestock. A study by colleagues at UNMC (Siu et al., 2015) involved farmers performing four balance tests using a pressure mat for several weeks. As sleep time decreased, they became less stable — 7.4 TIMES WORSE when they slept less than their average weekly hours the night before the test, and that was still with at least five hours of sleep! In another study, adolescent youth on farms were significantly more likely to get injured if they slept less than 9.25 hours per night (Stallones et al., 2006). Agriculture is dangerous enough for adults. Let’s not allow children and teens to be in even more danger. They need much more sleep than the 8 hours recommended for adults.

A surprising fact for many parents is that young children who exhibit symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may actually be suffering from only sleep deficiency, according to Dr. Victoria Molfese, Child, Youth and Family Studies at University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The symptom of “bouncing off the walls” and seeming to be full of extra energy, can be a sign that a child needs more sleep! In addition to basic daily life routines like food and beverage intake and physical activity, consideration for sleep hygiene — nightly routine — is imperative. Evening screen time and household light, noises and lights in the bedroom, and time in bed should be analyzed by a physician before any medication is prescribed for ADHD.

Sleep is the single most effective way to reset body functions for good health in humans of all ages, and lack of it has more impact on aging than anything else we can do to our bodies. Going without it means risking a whole slew of breakdowns, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, mental instability and even obesity.

It is crucial for individuals to respect the need for adequate sleep and make it a priority in daily routines. A few ways to achieve better quality sleep include the following:

• Go to bed, and more importantly, get up at the same time every day. This is crucial for setting our biological clock! Use the alarm clock the right way: NO snooze button. Get up and get out on time.

• Sleep in a room temperature of 60–68°F.

• Turn off all devices while sleeping so there is no lighting up, dinging, vibrating or ringing. Phone alarms still work in silenced or airplane modes.

• Allow eyes to take in plenty of bright light first thing in the morning and avoid it in the evening. Lower lights in the house after the sun goes down and make sleep spaces absolutely dark.

• If there is a struggle with insomnia or waking not feeling refreshed each morning, consider an in-home sleep study, as prescribed by a physician.

Sleep aids are not recommended as a first solution, as they can create dependency and next-day “hangover” effects or sleepiness, according to Dr. David Cantral, Pulmonologist at Platte Valley Medical Group in Kearney, Nebraska. Melatonin supplements can be helpful in small doses and for short time frames to help normalize a sleep routine that has been disrupted by shift work or time zone changes.

Nebraska Extension handout, “Tips & Tricks for Better Sleep,” with a list of 30 sleep tips and tricks, is online at http://go.unl.edu/sleept ips.

For program information about sleep deprivation and how to conquer it, contact Susan Harris at susan.harris@unl.edu.