Kids can fall asleep pretty much anywhere—at their desk, in the car, on the living room floor. But as people age, getting a restful night’s sleep gets a bit more challenging. That’s due in part to the stressors that come from the added responsibilities, the daily pressures of being an adult. Whether it’s a job, family or health issues, financial woes, struggles with self-worth, or taking on the world’s problem, people tend to take their troubles to bed. And having too much on the brain can make for a very restless night.
In addition to life events, depression and psychiatric disorders can also lead to a loss of sleep, sometimes for significant lengths of time. That can result in insomnia or a condition known as Insufficient Sleep Syndrome.
Insufficient Sleep Syndrome (ISS) is a voluntary, yet unintentional disorder that occurs when someone fails to get enough sleep night after night. Typically, a person with ISS regularly gets fewer than eight hours of sleep a night, but not because they have a medical or mental condition or sleep disorder. ISS may be caused by a hectic schedule that a person becomes so accustomed to that it becomes their norm. Yet without adequate sleep, the person may appear chronically fatigued and grow more irritable, less focused, and more easily distracted. Until they get a better amount of sleep on a regular basis, they will never feel alert or well-rested.
Depression and psychiatric disorders that cause sleep disturbances typically require some sort of professional intervention. However, sometimes mental or emotional conditions are actually caused by sleep disturbances. It can be a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep affects the production of neurochemicals in the brain, which can trigger anxiety and irritability. Yet someone who is anxious and irritable has trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Over time, the lack of sleep can lead to depression because of the disruption of hormone production, but also because it’s disheartening to be unable to sleep well and to ultimately lack the energy to get through a day.
One way to begin getting better sleep is to recognize its value. The brain needs deep sleep in order to rejuvenate. During deep sleep, it consolidates thoughts and memories taken in during the day. It then converts those short-term memories into long-term memories. That’s why people who pull all-nighters for a big test or a presentation draw a blank just when they need the information most—without deep, rejuvenating sleep, their mind was unable to consolidate the information they attempted to learn. Better performance during the day begins by embracing the idea that nothing is more important than getting the sleep you need.
In our 24/7 world, there are a million excuses for staying awake. In some circles, getting adequate sleep is even viewed as a weakness—I’ve been to retreats where one of the challenges to prove your manhood was to stay up all night. Interestingly, studies have even found that people understate the amount of sleep they actually get. While Gallup found that the average American reported sleeping 6.8 hours per night, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey found that people actually get about 8.7 hours. Of course, what is most important is not how long you were in bed, but how many hours you actually were asleep. This can be evaluated at a sleep center, with a home sleep study or numerous home units using Apps available now on your phone.
The bottom line is that everyone needs to reconcile with their body’s need for sleep. Sleep is critical for the body to function well. Until that becomes an acceptable part of society, until it’s recognized that we will be a more productive society overall when we get over the idea that everything else is more important than sleep, then inadequate sleep will likely be the norm.