Teenagers are supposed to sleep eight to ten hours per night, every night.
Does this make you laugh? Maybe you should keep reading. (Or take a nap – that would be good too.)
For my catalyst project, I chose to tackle the UN Goal of Good Health and Well-being.
While the more specific sub-goals don’t address sleep, I believe this is in part due to a lack of awareness and a lack of research around the importance of sleep, because sleep is incredibly important to public health. This project is an attempt to begin filling this hole in awareness.
How much did you sleep? Fill out the survey here:
Sleep (and sleep deprivation) is one of the least understood yet most important human phenomena.
Sleep makes us measurably smarter.
– It makes us more creative.
– It makes us less likely to make simple (yet often life-threatening) mistakes, like car accidents and medical errors. (“Sleep and Disease Risk.”)
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel | Features | CDC.”)
– It makes us more alert (17 hours awake is equivalent to being legally drunk in most US states) (Dawson).
Sleep makes us measurably physically healthier. Sleep research has barely scratched the surface, yet we already know that sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of
– Heart Disease
– Type 2 Diabetes
– Hypertension (high blood pressure)
– Degenerative brain conditions, like Alzheimer’s
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.”)(National Institutes of Health. “Sleep Deprivation Increases Alzheimer’s Protein.”)
For nerds like me, here’s some data: Age-Adjusted Percentage Reporting Chronic Health Conditions by Sleep Duration—Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 2014. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.”)
Sleep makes us measurably mentally healthier.
Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population.
Furthermore, a causal relationship has been established. Scientists have found that sleep disruption affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones in the brain, drastically increasing risk for psychiatric disorders.
There are estimates that 65%-90% of the adults and 90% of children who have major depression also experience a sleep problem. Most of these patients have insomnia, and around one in five have obstructive sleep apnea.
Other studies have shown that adults who report a history of insomnia are four times as likely to develop depression in the next three years. On the other side, those with depression and insomnia are less likely to respond to treatment than those without insomnia. Patients with depression and insomnia are more likely to experience suicidal ideation and even die by suicide than those who don’t have insomnia.
Sleep disorders affect over half of adults who have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). They are also common in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias. Studies have shown that children with anxiety take longer to fall asleep and sleep less deeply than healthy children. Sleep problems precede anxiety 27% of the time, and can slow the recovery process.
Sleep problems affect an estimated 25%-50% of children with ADHD. It is important to note that sleep deprivation can cause children to be hyperactive, inattentive, and emotionally unstable, even if they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. (Harvard Health Publishing. “Sleep and Mental Health.”)
Sleep has been described as
“the single most important factor in predicting longevity, more influential than diet, exercise, or heredity.” (Dement)
Yet, sleep deprivation is widespread throughout the country.
Prevalence of Short Sleep Duration (<7 hours) for Adults Aged ≥ 18 Years, by County, United States, 2014
However, sleep deprivation can be very dangerous.
Why? What does this little-understood period of time do for our brains, and how does it work?
Why are we sleep-deprived? There are a number of reasons.
It was estimated in 2006 that between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. That number has likely increased since, due to the increasing prevalence of sleep disorders and populational increase.
There are around 90 sleep disorders, broadly defined as conditions that cause symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, and abnormal events occurring during sleep (Colten).
45% of Americans say that “poor or insufficient sleep affected their daily activities at least once in the past seven days” (“Lack of Sleep Is Affecting Americans, Finds the National Sleep Foundation.”).
As of 2018,
– 1 out of 3 Americans work 45 hours or more per week, and 9.7 million work more than 60.
– Americans work 7.8% more hours per year than they did in 1979
– Americans sleep an average of 6.5 hours per night, a drop from the last century
Light, especially blue light, at night.
Nighttime light pollution affects 80% of the world’s population (Morelle). Unnatural light prevents the brain from releasing melatonin, which naturally makes people sleepy. Without melatonin, people are more at risk of sleep deprivation.
One more of my addition: culture. This is harder to measure, but I’ve noticed a culture of sleep deprivation as a perceived proxy for one’s dedication, self-restraint, and work ethic at school. People brag about how little sleep they got, as if sleeping is a weakness and not a biological necessity.
Have you noticed this in your school or workplace?
You can view the results here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1LPmYOTQiGW7MN9F95uUSVNhTEsDlO79XB_oSiUXaL-E/edit?usp=sharing
Hopefully, by now, you’re convinced of the importance of sleep. I’ve created a series of posters that anyone can access and print out on typical 8.5×11 paper and post anywhere. There’s no need to attribute it to me. Also, feel free to modify them in any way possible. (I’d request that you keep the citations, though, for source credibility and so people can track down more information.) The goal here is to improve public health on a scale as large as possible.
You can access the posters here.
It’s clear that sleep deprivation is not worth it in the long run. What about the short run? Is it worth losing some sleep to make more money or do more work in the short run?
Maybe – but that’s not what’s happening when someone is sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation decreases efficiency and productivity – so much that working longer hours means losing money.
In fact, sleep deprivation costs the United States alone an estimated
400 billion dollars every year.
So sleep deprivation is worse for health and productivity. The problem is that we do not perceive it to be so – we are sorely uneducated on the dangers of sleep deprivation and sorely unaware that we are, in fact, making negative progress when sleep deprived.
What can you do personally to improve your own sleep?
Remove blue light before bedtime.
Light with a short wavelength (blue light) is more commonly seen earlier in the day, while light with longer wavelengths (mostly orange) is seen later in the day. Blue light signals to the pineal gland in the brain that it should not release melatonin, a natural hormone that induces sleepiness.
Blue light is common in fluorescent and LED lights and the screens of electronic devices.
If you’re not ready to give up your devices at night, that’s okay – there are apps that can adjust the level of blue light based on your personal sleep schedule. Here’s a free app that can control blue light levels in computer screens: https://justgetflux.com/.
Night Shift mode can reduce blue light levels on iPhones based on time of day and location: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207570.
Here is a list of free apps for Android: https://beebom.com/best-blue-light-filter-night-mode-apps-android/.
Meditate, especially before bed.
It sounds silly, but it actually helps. Studies have shown not only its efficacy, but that it is more effective than sleep hygiene education (teaching people recommended behaviors and practices).
Note: MAP is mindful awareness practices and SHE is sleep hygiene education. (Black)
If you think you may have a sleeping disorder, talk to your doctor. Untreated sleeping disorders can cause sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation, which can contribute to any order of medical conditions. Here is a list of sleeping disorders: https://sleepjunkies.com/sleep-disorder-list-icsd-2/.
Here’s the article about my family’s experience with sleep apnea:https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/patients/marvitAmeliaHuxleySelina.html
The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep
Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep
I’d greatly appreciate any feedback you have on any of my work!
Thanks, and please get a good night’s sleep!
*(Ironically, I’m writing all of this after one in the morning.)
“Sleep and Disease Risk.” Sleep and Disease Risk | Healthy Sleep, WGBH Educational Foundation and the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, 18 Dec. 2007, healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel | Features | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Nov. 2018, www.cdc.gov/features/dsdrowsydriving/index.html.
Dawson, Drew, and Kathryn Reid. “Fatigue, Alcohol and Performance Impairment.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 1997, www.nature.com/articles/40775.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Feb. 2018, www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html.
National Institutes of Health. “Sleep Deprivation Increases Alzheimer’s Protein.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 24 Apr. 2018, www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/sleep-deprivation-increases-alzheimers-protein.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Sleep and Mental Health.” Harvard Health, 18 Mar. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health.
Dement, W.C., and C Vaughan. “The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 1999, psycnet.apa.org/record/2000-07284-000.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 May 2017, www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html.
“What Happens To Your Body And Brain If You Don’t Get Sleep | The Human Body.” YouTube, 26 Dec. 2017, youtu.be/Y-8b99rGpkM.
“Why Do We Have To Sleep?” YouTube, 28 Sept. 2015, youtu.be/3mufsteNrTI.
Colten, Harvey R. “Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders.” Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/.
Morelle, Rebecca. “Light Pollution ‘Affects 80% of Global Population’.” BBC News, BBC, 10 June 2016, www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-36492596.
“Lack of Sleep Is Affecting Americans, Finds the National Sleep Foundation.” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/press-release/lack-sleep-affecting-americans-finds-national-sleep-foundation.
Covert, Bryce. “Americans Work Too Much Already.” The Nation, 28 Sept. 2018, www.thenation.com/article/americans-work-too-much-already/.
McCarthy, Niall. “Report: Sleep Deprivation Costs The U.S. Economy $400 Billion Every Year [Infographic].” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 7 Dec. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2016/12/01/report-sleep-deprivation-costs-the-u-s-economy-400-billion-every-year-infographic/#dc604ce1998a.
Black, David S. “Mindfulness Meditation in Sleep-Disturbed Adults.” JAMA Internal Medicine, American Medical Association, 1 Apr. 2015, jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998.
Ponzi, Fabiana. “Cute Latino Teenager Sleeping in Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-Free) 34288984.” Shutterstock, www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-34288984-cute-latino-teenager-sleeping-bed-hugging-plush.