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By Dr. Tara O’Brien
Sleep. It accounts for a third of your life and a big chunk of your health and longevity. So why are you not sleeping enough?
While we often consider sleep to be a “passive” activity, sufficient sleep is increasingly being recognized as an essential aspect of health promotion and chronic disease prevention in the public health community. Under cover of night, sleep floods your veins with age-defying human growth hormone. Sleep raises an army of T cells and sends them into battle against colds and infection. Sleep resets the appetite controls that tell you to not hit the turn signal when you pass a McDonald’s.
So then why are we engaged in a society-wide experiment in sleep deprivation? Average nightly sleep time during the work week in North America is down nearly 20 minutes in the last decade, to 6 hours and 40 minutes. Men ages 30 to 44 are the worst offenders. Thirty percent of them say they log less than 6 hours of sleep at night, according to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Snooze strategy: If you didn’t sleep 7 to 8 hours every night this past week, go to bed this weekend at your regular weekday time, but don’t set your alarm clock. Did you rise on Saturday and Sunday at the same time you would have on, say, a Tuesday? Then you may be one of those few people who can sleep less yet remain healthy. The rest of us mere mortals can begin to repay our sleep debt by dozing 10 hours a night on weekends and then sticking to 7 to 8 hours during the week. Your brain will use this strategy whenever you accumulate a sleep debt, says Ruth Benca, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Wisconsin Sleep Center. Otherwise, you want to stay consistent with your sleeping.
The price you pay for this sleep deficit is more than just lost productivity. Your health can suffer too. So wake up! It’s time to shed some light on this dark territory.
Tara O’Brien HB.Sc. is a Naturopathic Doctor at PURE Wellness Group in Sudbury.