by: Lori Gregory
March is the national month for a multitude of diseases, including Brain Injury Awareness Month and Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. It is well known for National Women’s History Month, which gives us so much to talk about. But did you know that March is also National Sleep Awareness Month, and March 19 is World Sleep Day?
Being a licensed and registered Sleep Technologist for the state of Maryland and working in sleep medicine for over 20 years, I felt it imperative to speak a little on SLEEP. We didn’t have these National Sleep awareness campaigns when I started in sleep medicine many moons ago, and so I am very appreciative that this discipline is finally getting some awareness.
Being Sleepy and unaware
I have spent almost my entire life “skimping” on sleep. I didn’t nap as a child. I stayed up all night in high school working on term papers, pulled all-nighters in college studying for finals, and was up by necessity as a young mom taking care of two boys with sickle cell disease. Then I had the NERVE to start working in a sleep lab AT NIGHT, and not sleeping during the day. There were times when I worked all night, stayed up all day, and went back to work the next night.
My motto back then: I’ll sleep later. (SO thankful my motto has changed!)
I did not know until my mid 30’s that sleep deprivation has a profound negative effect on health. Little did I know that insufficient sleep was shifting my internal body clock, preventing me from consolidating my memory, and actually dysregulating my blood pressure (Harvard Medical School, 2019). A respiratory therapist coworker once told me, “Lori, every hour you skip on sleep is shortening your life.” I had never been told that before, but for some reason, it hit home, and I began to realize it was true.
Then one day in my meditation, the Lord gently admonished me that if I did not get a handle on my sleep habits, it will lessen my time here on earth. But I had already begun to see the signs: I couldn’t remember conversations, couldn’t do basic mathematical calculations the morning after my night at work…. Then one day, the most awakening (pun intended) thing happened to me. I was at my bank, and I completely FORGOT how to sign my name! I forgot what my signature looked like. I stood there and stared at the form and stared at the pen in my hand. What in the world! I knew in that moment that sleep deprivation had taken me to a dangerous level cognitively. I was forced to acknowledge the far reaching effects of not getting sleep.
How much sleep did YOU get last night?
Four hours? Five? The optimum EIGHT? According to the National Sleep Foundation (2021), the average adult should get 7-9 hours of sleep per night in order to maintain health. Anything less than that begins to build up a sleep debt. And studies show that you can’t just make up for it on the weekends; that does NOT work. (National Institutes of Health, 2019)
The Sleep Foundation has a really nice chart of sleep needs for ALL ages. Check it out at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
STAT FACTS (Harvard Medical School, 2019):
- 70% of people are sleep deprived
- 33% get 6 hours or less of sleep per night
- 20% of all automobile crashes are related to sleep deprivation
During the day, toxins build up in our body and brain. When we sleep, our body detoxifies itself; the brain rids itself of toxins via the lymph system. When we sleep, our cells regenerate themselves, and our memories consolidate.
So what happens when we don’t sleep?
This is your brain on NO Sleep
- Loss of focus, attention and alertness
- Poor judgment
- Decreased vision (from less energy to the occipital cortex)
- Increase of the “hungry hormones”
- Build up of brain toxins such as amyloid beta (amyloid Beta plaques are DIRECTLY related to causing Alzheimer’s disease)
- Decreased immunity. Poor sleep one week before receiving a vaccine causes a 50% reduction in antibody response. (Harvard Medical School, 2019). Go to sleep before your vaccine!!
Insufficient sleep contributes to: inflammation, cancer, hormone dysregulation, depression, decreased vaccine response, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain. (Harvard Medical School, 2019).
Additionally, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by emotional instability, impulsive behavior, and lack of focus. Well, so is sleep deprivation!
This very topic was just discussed in our management meeting with the neurologists last month. Why are so many ritalin prescriptions written for kids? Why not FIRST look at their sleep habits and get them in bed before 11pm!
Now I lay me down to sleep.....
Let’s also lay these other things down:
- Electronics- distract us; blue light decreases the melatonin (sleepy hormone)
- Caffeine--wake-promoting. Don't’ drink too close to bedtime
- TV in the room (ideal NOT to have one in the room.)
But pick these habits up:
- Optimum room temperature for sleeping is 65 degrees
- Consistent wake time
- Try LAVENDER essential oil, in diffusers or as a spray.
Two main Sleep Disorders disruptive to Sleep and Health and Well Being:
INSOMNIA AND OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA
Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the inability to breathe at night while sleep, due to an obstructed airway. OSA increases cardiovascular risk by 420%!! (Harvard Medical School, 2019). Typical signs of OSA include snoring, gasping for air, and night awakenings. If you are concerned or suspect that you or a loved one may have OSA, see your primary care physician promptly to see if you should have a sleep study.
Make sleep your priority, and as I always say, REMember to SLEEP!!
Harvard Medical School. (2019, May 2). Why sleep matters [Video file]. Retrieved from
National Institutes of Health. (2019, August 13). Brain basics: Understanding sleep
National Sleep Foundation. (2020, December 28). Sleep, immune health, and vaccination
Sleep Foundation. (2021). How much sleep do we really need?