With disordered sleep and wakefulness affecting an estimated 50-70 million Americans, sleep is a topic that should be high on the radar for any companies that are focused on wellness-centric initiatives.
The effects of sleep deprivation on day-to-day productivity and potential adverse effects on long term health are well documented. Some people might like to boast about how well they do on consistently little sleep. They may even perceive their 4-5 hours of sleep per night as a "badge of honor" that enables them to work longer and get more done.
However, this distorted reality is likely to be more about the way the person has become used to living, and in reality they may have seriously diminished their potential for optimal productivity and wellness.
Let's take a look at some of the common myths about sleep, starting with the aforementioned concept that some people just don't need as much.
Some people only need 4 or 5 hours of sleep per night to function well
If a person has been consistently getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep per night, they might believe that they don't need as much as other people. However, it's possible that this has simply become their reality and they don't know how different they might feel if they were consistently getting a minimum of 7 hours per night (as recommended by the CDC).
Chronic restriction of sleep periods can have a significant, negative impact on cognitive performance-related tasks. One study on restricted sleep periods, which included a limit of 4 or 6 hours per night over 14 consecutive days, showed that the effects of sleep restriction were cumulative. It also highlighted that even relatively moderate sleep deprivation can seriously impair daytime functioning.
Additionally, those who sleep less at night may attempt to "repay" their sleep debt by napping or sleeping in on the weekends. However, sleep experts explain that the latter can make things worse, due to disruptions to the person's natural circadian rhythm, including their sleep patterns.
Apart from being a potential annoyance for others, snoring is harmless
Snoring has the potential to challenge the sleeping abilities of those in close proximity to the snorer, and it could also be a sign of something more serious. Although snoring may not be indicative of a health concern, it could be a symptom of sleep apnea. A person with sleep apnea experiences pauses in their breathing patterns while they are sleeping.
These pauses affect the person's quality of sleep because the flow of oxygen is inconsistent, and this can place strain on the cardiovascular system. People with sleep apnea often feel more tired during the day, which can affect on-the-job safety and productivity, and overall feelings of wellness.
Chronic sleep apnea can increase the risk of serious diseases such as diabetes and stroke. There are known risk factors that increase the chances of having sleep apnea and companies should have an understanding of the impact that sleep apnea can have in the workplace.
Lack of sleep can make you feel low on energy but it doesn't affect other areas of your lifestyle
Aside from diminished productivity and feelings of fatigue, lack of sleep can have far-reaching effects on other areas of your lifestyle that you may not have thought were connected. Different areas of health are all interconnected, and sleep is an important piece of the puzzle.
If you have ever noticed that you can't keep yourself away from "junk" food the day after a poor night's sleep, it's not because you have no self-control. There are very clear hormone disruptions that occur as a result of poor quality sleep. Essentially, the hormone ghrelin increases, which tells you to eat more. At the same time, leptin levels fall, a hormone that is responsible for making you feel like you haven't eaten enough.
Less healthy food choices, coupled with potentially lower energy levels, could also make it easier to skip your workout session for the day. A "grumpier" or more emotional mood may contribute towards increased tension or conflict in relationships. These are a few examples of the potential areas of your lifestyle that could be impacted by poor sleep.
Alcohol is a great option for a better night's sleep
It's a misconception that alcohol can assist with a better night's sleep. It's likely that this sleep myth is a commonly held belief because it has been reported to help people relax and fall asleep more easily after having a few drinks.
While this may be the case, the evidence shows that it is likely to result in restless sleep during the second half of the night. High doses of alcohol can significantly reduce REM sleep during the first part of the night, and the onset of REM sleep can be delayed across all doses of alcohol. [Find out more about the different stages of sleep, and their importance in "The Power of a Good Sleep: Examining the 4 Stages of Sleep"].
To improve sleep hygiene, consider non-alcoholic alternatives as part of a pre-bedtime routine for a better night's sleep. [Find out more about how to get a better night's sleep in "Pandemic Insomnia: 10 Tips to Improve Your Sleep Hygiene" and "5 Things That Could Be Impacting Your Quality of Sleep"].
There are no serious health concerns associated with chronic sleep deprivation
Looking beyond the short term impacts of sleep deprivation, there are clear links between health conditions that usually develop over a period of time.
Watching television is a great way to relax and wind down for a good night's sleep
While some people may find that watching TV is a nice way to relax, the general recommendation from experts is that bright lights, and in particular, blue light (which is present in daylight, but also in the light emitted from device screens such as televisions and tablets) can adversely affect sleep quality.
Light suppresses melatonin in humans, and blue light has been shown to have the biggest impact on this. It can also increase alertness more than other colors.
In general, devices such as televisions can also end up consuming more time than is perhaps intended. This can result in a later bedtime and shorter sleep duration overall, especially if an alarm is set for a specific wake up time.
These are just a few of the commonly held myths about sleep. Sleep is an important, and sometimes overlooked, area of health that should be prioritized due to it's far-reaching short-term and long-term effects on health and wellness.
Sleep studies can offer a means of identifying the root cause of sleep issues and a subsequent plan to improve sleep quality.