Inadequate rest impairs our ability to think, to handle stress, to maintain a healthy immune system and to moderate our emotions. In fact, sleep is so important to our overall health that total sleep deprivation has been proven to be fatal: lab rats denied the chance to rest die within two to three weeks.
Other typical effects of sleep deprivation include heart disease, hypertension, weight gain, diabetes and a wide range of psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.
New research is increasingly indicating a link between sleep and immune function. The latest example of such research is a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine demonstrating that getting less sleep can substantially increase the chances of catching a cold.
For 14 days, the researchers monitored and recorded the sleep time of 153 healthy men and women ages 21 to 55. They also scored their sleep efficiency, the percentage of time in bed spent asleep.
Then they dripped a solution containing a rhinovirus into their noses and monitored their health for five days. Almost all subjects became infected, and more than a third had cold symptoms.
But after controlling for confounding factors, researchers found that those who got less than seven hours of sleep were almost three times more likely to have clinical symptoms than those who got eight or more.
Those with a sleep efficiency score of 85 percent or less were more than five times as likely to be infected as those with higher efficiency.
Sleep problems have reached epidemic proportions. They have been estimated to be the #1 health-related problem in America. More than 1/3 of Americans have trouble sleeping every night, and 51% of adults say they have problems sleeping at least a few nights each week. 43% of respondents report that daytime sleepiness interferes with their normal daytime activities.
This is not surprising in a culture that values productivity and activity above all else, and disdains rest and relaxation. “Resting” for many people means watching TV, browsing the internet or engaging with some other kind of electronic device that is anything but restful for the brain and the body. We have not only forgotten the value of rest, we have forgotten how to do it.
For those of you who are having trouble sleeping, I would suggest an audio self-help kit called the Secrets of Sounder Sleep. The premise behind the program, which I agree with completely, is that the most important factor in getting a good night’s sleep is managing stress during the day. Most of us run around like chickens with their heads cut off all day, and then wonder why we can’t fall right asleep as soon as our head hits the pillow. If our nervous system has been in overdrive for 16 hours, it’s unrealistic to assume that it can switch into low gear in a matter of minutes simply because we want it to. The Sounder Sleep program has simple, easy-to-follow breathing and movement exercises designed to promote daytime relaxation and a good night’s sleep. It helped me tremendously.
(Note: I have no affiliation with the Sounder Sleep System other than being a satisfied participant. I’ve also taken a workshop with Michael Krugman, the founder, and it significantly improved my sleep and well-being.)