The Sandman's Gift

Originally Published in Psychology Today


What price do we pay for getting too little sleep?

Okay, I’ll admit it: When presented with a choice between visiting slumberland and burning the midnight oil, I haven’t always made the brightest choice. “If a few hours of sleep need to be sacrificed here and there to get things done and be productive, it’s worth it, right?” Wrong. Thankfully, my lovely husband gave me exactly the kind of truth I needed, referring to the version of me on sleep deprived days as Holly Version 1.0, which motivated me to turn over a new leaf on getting shut-eye. I mean, really. Who wants to function as Version 1.0

As it turns out, a lot of us are operating as Version 1.0 because a sizable chunk of us aren’t getting enough sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that inadequate sleep is a “public health problem,” and report that approximately 35 percent of adults in the United Statesare getting less than seven hours of sleep per night. (At least seven hours of sleep is recommended.) And the National Sleep Foundation reveals that the same percentage of adults (35 percent) say they’re not getting the quality of sleep they need.

So what are the consequences of too little sleep? It's harder to process information, remember things, and take care of the everyday business of life, and sleep loss also increases the odds of accidents and is linked to various health conditions (e.g., hypertension, diabetes). And there are other repercussions of inadequate rest. In thecriminal justice system, for example, judges give defendants more prison time during daylight savings time, a time when they’re also more likely to miss out on sleep. In everyday life, insomnia forecasts thoughts of suicide. At the workplaceleaders who get inadequate sleep are less socially skilled with their colleagues. And in the world of romantic relationships, sleep is linked to how couples relate to each other. For instance, couples who don’t sleep well are more likely to be at odds with each other. Not only is it harder to read the emotions of someone who hasn't slept enough, but that sleep-deprived person also has a harder time figuring out what their partner is feeling. However, those who get enough zzz’s are more likely to feel happier with their partner. And when well-rested people have less than shining moments with their partner, they’re more inclined to resist allowing these moments to dim how they see the relationship, which is beneficial for their bond.

What we just covered here is a fraction of the research on sleep and how it potently impacts our lives. Now perhaps you already know how vital sleep is and you’re getting the hours and quality of sleep you need: Beautiful! But, if you’re one of the many who struggles to get enough sleep, or who prioritizes other tasks oversleep (ahem, like yours truly used to do), I hope the information here offers a little validation about getting the sleep you and deserve. If you’re not sure where to start, consider some of the following initial steps: 

  • Don’t go it alone. Talk with your primary care doctor about how much sleep you’re getting and how you can improve the amount and quality of your sleep. Moreover, consider reaching out to a therapist and trying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), a scientifically supported treatment. Psychology Today has an extensive listing of therapists who can help.  

  • Do a little online searching for reputable websites that offer tips on how to improve your sleep routine. The National Sleep Foundation is a great place to start. 

  • Rather than trying to change your sleep routine dramatically, focus on making one minor, doable change. You’re used to going to bed at 12:30 a.m.? For starters, set an alarm to prompt yourself to go to sleep at 12:15 a.m. 

  • If you doubt the impact of sleep on your functioning, try noticing and jotting down how you think, feel, and perform on days when you get enough sleep compared to days when you don’t. And seek out the thoughts of others who really know you. Try asking a friend, a relative, or your partner for their input on what Version of you is walking around when you’re well-rested, and when you’re not. 

Holly ParkerComment