For most people, working a nine-to-five job is fairly commonplace. You can get up at 7, shower, get dressed, eat, commute, grab coffee at the local cafe, and get to work on time, if not ahead of time.
However, with more and more jobs that require longer hours and farther commutes, your other necessary tasks of the day—whether that be catching up on T.V., walking your dog, or working out—need to be earlier or later in the day, causing many individuals to have an out-of-whack sleep schedules. Sure, older generations may tell you not to complain—they claim to have walked uphill in 20 feet of snow to their jobs every morning at 6 when they were your age, but that is likely not the case. Plus, an exorbitant lack of sleep can lead to many problems mentally, physically and emotionally.
As shown in Ann Pietrangelo’s 2014 article “The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body,” the central nervous system, the immune system, the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, and the digestive system are all at both short-term and long-term risk when your body is deprived of sleep. Below are one or two examples of how each system is affected by lack of sleep.
- Central Nervous System: A lack of sleep can interfere with your ability to concentrate and learn new things. Lack of sleep and this effect for teenagers especially has been focused on in many recent studies, leading to discussions regarding a reduction in homework in some school districts.
- Immune System: Whenever you’re sick, you try to sleep as much as possible, correct? Sleep deprivation can cause you to get sick, largely because the antibodies that fight off illnesses are commonly formed in your sleep. You will also have a greater risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes.
- Respiratory System: Going hand-in-hand with the issues that will affect your immune system, your respiratory system will also make you more likely to get a cold when you aren’t sleeping as much as you should. If you have issues with your lungs, your respiratory system will be more affected as well.
- Cardiovascular System: If you’re more likely to gain weight with your lack of sleep, you’re also more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease or even a stroke.
- Digestive System: One more time with feeling—a lack of sleep lowers your body’s levels of leptin, which is a hormone that lets your mind know when you’re hungry. Without adequate levels of this hormone, you are further at risk for obesity.
So, all of those factors sound like a good time right? Wrong.
Sure, there are most likely many other factors in your life that can lead to catching the common cold (working with children or having them yourself) or becoming obese (a personal diet), but a lack of sleep seems to speed up this process. Because you’re so exhausted, you may not even realize the detriment to your health until something serious occurs, like a stroke or a fainting sleep occur.
Hence, what can you do to prevent these problems from occurring to you and your loved ones? Look below for ideas that may work for you.
- Make sure your sleeping environment is comfortable enough for actual sleep. This means darkness—turning off lights, closing the blinds, and turning off any and all electronic devices at least an hour before bed. This last point may be the most difficult task for some, but, honestly, those cute cat videos and BuzzFeed posts can wait until tomorrow.
- Stick to a schedule as much as you can. Sure, you may be getting jiggy with it on the weekends and not getting home until the wee hours of sunrise, but that should not be the case all week long. Set a reasonable bedtime and rising time for your schedule, that you know you can stick to at least during the work week (Sunday night through Friday morning). Check out a website like sleepyti.me or Sleep Calculator to calculate when you should go to bed for your wake-up or vice versa for a more refreshed you.
- Drop the caffeine out of your life in the afternoon. As shown by LiveStrong, the National Sleep Foundation, and Psychology Today, caffeine before bedtime—even six hours prior to bedtime—can cause you to get less sleep. Listen to your body, know your abilities with caffeine, and reach for water or decaffeinated tea in the afternoon instead of another cup of joe.
- It will take time to get used to this change—anywhere from 21 to 66 days, if not longer. To make or break a new habit, studies have shown that there’s a variance in time from person to person. There has been a lot of talk about the “21-day fix” or “21-day-challenge,” but, as shown in Ben Gardner’s 2012 study “Busting the 21 days habit formation myth,” the average “fix” is about 66 days—but “it’s unwise to attempt to assign a number to this process.” Basically, that means that, even if you feel like your health and sleep aren’t changing, they most likely are—but change takes time, so stick to it!
Even if you aren’t able to implement all of these changes at once into your life, try one at a time. If you start slow, gradually work your way up by adding a new trick each week or every few days. Once you’re able to get a full and refreshing night’s sleep, you won’t even remember all of the stress and tiredness that you put behind you.