Many of us need more sleep than we know. In our KERA Health Checkup, Sam Baker talked with Dr. Bradley Jones, an internal medicine physician at Baylor Medical Center at Irving, about problems associated with sleep deprivation and what to do about it.
Dr. Jones: Everything from your mental health, high blood pressure, to obesity, to diabetes, heart disease, to stroke – all these things can be affected by a chronic sleep deprivation condition.
Sam: What is the difference between, say, not getting enough sleep a few nights in a row and sleep deprivation?
Dr. Jones: The technical definition of sleep deprivation is if it affects your alertness, your ability to perform and your overall health. So it could even be a small amount every night over time can accumulate. As opposed to an acute sleep deprivation which is staying up all night, one or two nights, and that’ll have a short term effect on you.
Sam: How many people suffer from this?
Dr. Jones: It’s amazing, the number of people who suffer from it. Estimates run from 30 to 40 percent of American adults suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. And they’ve even reported some of our major accidents in the United States have been related to sleep deprivation – things all the way from Three Mile Island, the (Exxon) Valdez to Chernobyl in Russia. So a multitude of accidents and many car accidents are associated with sleep deprivation.
Sam: How long can sleep debt build before you, maybe, crash or hit a wall, so to speak?
Dr. Jones: It doesn’t take that long. Even if you lose two or three hours of sleep a night over a week or two, that builds up and it almost has the same effect as staying up all night.
Sam: So it depends upon the person, I guess?
Dr. Jones: Absolutely. Every person is different. The amount of sleep I need may be different from the amount you need. But there is an amount we require. An average American requires eight hours of sleep; that’s what they need. Some people do well on seven, some people do well on nine. But if you don’t hit what your level is, it’s going to affect your overall well being. If you just lose two or three hours a night, that’s going to have a significant effect on you.
Sam: So, to people who say “Well, I seem to do fine on four or five hours”?
Dr. Jones: There are a few out there that really do. A lot of those people think they’re doing okay, but when you really study those people, their performance is not the same as what they would have if they had had more hours sleep.
Sam: So once you develop sleep deprivation, what can you do about it? How can you treat it?
Dr. Jones: The obvious answer is get more sleep. Try to take a few days off from work and catch up. Don’t set the alarm. Try to sleep as long as you can. And see when your body wakes up. Also, we would look at doing a sleep study to see if they have sleep apnea or snoring problems – are they not getting enough deep sleep. Try to avoid caffeine at night. Try to avoid late meals. Try to avoid exercising late at night. Things to try and improve what we call sleep hygiene. You know, go to bed at the right time every night. Don’t change your timing and overall quality of sleep, try to address that as best you can.
Sam: I’ve seen some report where they say you really should set your bedroom up for sleep only. No television, no computers.
Dr. Jones: Right. Because people are too tempted to get up and watch TV in bed and fall off while they’re watching TV or playing with the computer. That’s part of the sleep hygiene again: You go to your bedroom, you go to sleep. Make sure you really value that time you have in the ability to get sleep.
Sam: Are naps helpful?
Dr. Jones: Absolutely. They really are. Some studies show that a 20 minute nap can regenerate your alertness as much as two or three extra hours at night.
Sam: But to deal with sleep deprivation, it doesn’t necessarily require a physician’s care?
Dr. Jones: I would recommend it because we need to get to the root cause. Is it just not enough time because you’re doing too many things? Well that obviously just needs more sleep. But is there a medical problem related to it? Or are some medicines you’re taking affecting it. Those are things you should consult with your physician, absolutely.
Dr. Bradley Jones is an internal medicine physician (internist) on staff at Baylor Medical Center at Irving.
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