Oh Mr. Sandman...
Alright, sleep deprivation, here we go.
How many of you open your eyes in the morning and the first thought to cross your mind is “did I get enough sleep?” It's usually one of my first thoughts. I scroll back through the previous evening to see if I remember what time I shut off the light. And then I try to note how long it took me to fall asleep. Did I see the clock again after lights out? Did I wake up during the night? Do I feel like I've rested? Thankfully I can usually say yes I feel rested, I went to bed at a good hour and woke up at a good hour. Most mornings I don't need an alarm clock; my body does a pretty good job of waking up at the appointed hour. Even if I went to bed late I can typically expect to be up by 730am at the latest. There was a time though were sleep loss was a regular thing for me. This was during a really tough period in my life and I suspect the insomnia was related to really high levels of stress and emotional upheaval. It was unpleasant to say the least and I definitely reached a point where I wondered... is this just... it? I am never going to sleep normally again? Should I just accept this? Do I need drugs??? Thankfully, my sleep disruption problems were addressed by attending to the things in my life causing so much stress, giving myself a bit of a break from the constant pressure, and paying a little bit of attention to my sleep hygiene. We will talk a bit more about this later, but for now we will look at some of the consequences of sleep loss.
Back to Daylight Savings Time (groooaaannn)
So think back to a few weeks ago. The clock jumps ahead an hour meaning you and I have to try and fall asleep an hour ahead of our current body clocks. Hello laying in bed for an extra hour waiting for sleep to set in and take away a few points for sleep efficiency. And let's not forget, we are also waking up an hour earlier, so we can't adjust and sleep in a bit in the morning. There may be consequences to this loss of sleep suggested by a growing pile of evidence.
Researchers have been looking at DST and trying to see how it alters human behaviour and even if there is an impact on traffic collisions and accidents in general. It would seem like they have had some trouble arriving at a consensus and a lot of that may have something to do with how studies are designed. A review looking more so at human behaviour concluded that the changes in clocks have a definite impact on human behaviour and even mood, leaning towards the negative.
It was found in one study that student test score were reduced immediately following the DST change compared to test scores the week before. And adults would exhibit higher amounts of time spent 'cyber-loafing' while at work. What is cyber-loafing? It's exactly what it sounds like, procrastinating work tasks to watch cat videos and give a thumbs up to internet memes on facebook. It was suggested that the increased activity on non-work related sites was due to the decreased ability to self regulate because of the loss of sleep.
Other studies have been trying to identify if the changes in the time can be related to changes in traffic collisions and other accidents. While this has proven inconclusive, it may not be because there is no evidence of the effect but rather the difficulties presented for study design. Currently the science can't support the notion, but, it's not a huge stretch to consider someone who is normally a short sleeper would perhaps have even greater difficulty in the morning after the spring time change and potentially be more reckless while on the road.
Hazards of Sleep Loss
Poor sleep feels pretty dreadful and also has some specific cognitive impairments associated. Ability to maintain attention is often impaired, resulting in attention interruptions; the mind is able to focus, then loses focus, regains it, loses it again. As wakefulness is prolonged, attention impairment accumulates. Emotional regulation is also very difficult. Sleep loss often produces a feeling of irritability with a much lower threshold for stressful stimuli and makes it much harder to regulate our emotions or to get ourselves to “simmer down.” We can end up being a little extra snippy with our friends, family and coworkers, or alternatively, can become extra sappy, weepy and needy with our close connections. Our ability to control our responses to impulses can also be impaired, increasing our impulsivity (correlated with a disruption to self regulation). And in another funny twist, it would seem that our ability to accurate value reward is impaired. We may tend to over-value perceived rewards because, honestly, just about anything pleasant or shiny looks pretty good when you haven't slept well.
Interestingly, sleep loss can also impair endocrine activity, specifically with regards to regulation of metabolism. Sleep loss can result in a decreased sensitivity to insulin, which can throw off our blood sugar regulation. Leptin, a hormone that acts on appetite suppression, can be decreased following sleep loss and ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, increases. Commonly, desire for high carbohydrate foods increases as well. Coupled with impulsivity and emotional regulation the consequences can spill over into food habits including over eating and consuming more sugar than one might usually. Current science is now pointing to a possible link between obesity rates and sleep loss. Over the last 50 years adults have been losing sleep by a few minutes each year. Today, 30% of Americans report getting no more than 5-6 hours of sleep each night. While there are many factors that play in to the trending changes in human body composition and mass, considering the hormonal changes that are evident through the science, chronic sleep loss may be another contributor to this reality.
A second cup... please... Ugh... so the lack of sleep has some pretty significant consequences. Pour another cup of coffee or tea if you need it, and extend to yourself just a bit of compassion. Getting through the day without enough sleep is tough. Like, really tough. And if you've got the spoons for it, maybe share a drop or two of that compassion with your housemates and co-workers as they are feeling it too.
Next week we will look a bit more closely as specific sleep disorders and what the suggestions are to treat them.
Carey, R. N., & Sarma, K. M. (2017). Impact of daylight saving time on road traffic collision risk: a systematic review. BMJ open, 7(6), e014319.
Eva Van Cauter et al. Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep Med. 2008 September 9(01): S23–S28
Adam J. Krause et al. The sleep deprived human brain. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2017 July 18(7): 404–418