Sleep Deprivation: Are We Torturing Ourselves?

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torture?

Sleep deprivation is used by government agents around the world as part of prisoner interrogation and torture. The European Convention on Human Rights calls it inhumane and degrading. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez oil spill were all related to sleep deprivation.  So why do we do it to ourselves voluntarily?

My daughter tells me a lot of the girls on her softball team like to brag about who stayed up the latest. A 4th grade boy in my Sunday School class came in one morning and said, “I stayed up until 3 watching TV!” Another mom I know told me she routinely stays up until at least 2a.m. doing little projects or reading, and then she’ll get up at 6a.m. to start breakfast. And since Facebook puts a time stamp on your posts and I can routinely see friends who have posted well after midnight. This is voluntary sleep deprivation folks!

Food, sleep, physical activity, and stress management are the four big health areas which can make or break our health. Going without sleep is a big form of stress both physically and mentally.  Depression, irritability, temper tantrums, loss of memory, and inability to focus are all signs of sleep deprivation. But so are heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure all related to chronic lack of sleep. Even weight gain is related.

We need to make sleep a priority for ourselves and our children. Sleep is essential for optimal growth in children and teens, but it is also essential for growth in adults. Adults may have stopped growing taller, but we still continue to grow new cells throughout our bodies to repair and replace the ones that have worn out. From 10p.m. to 2a.m. is the peak repair and detoxification time for everyone, children and adults. So don’t think you can stay up until 2a.m. and just sleep in the next day to make up for it – it doesn’t work that way.

How much sleep is enough? It depends on the individual but as a general rule adults need 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 hours each night. Babies and toddlers can sleep up to 12 hours. Children and teens need close to 10 hours, so don’t let your teenager tell you they can stay up late and get up early – they need that extra couple of hours pretty much all the way through college!

How can you get on a good sleep schedule? The number one thing that regulates your sleep cycle is light.  Natural light during the day stimulates your circadian rhythm to get in sync. As evening comes the amount of light should decrease, and that include artificial light. By 9p.m. in the summer and earlier in fall and winter you should dim the lights and close down the computer.  There are computer programs you can get that will automatically dim your computer lights in the evening to reduce the stimulation that light gives your brain that keeps you awake. You can also wear amber-tinted glasses which will do the same thing.

Kids are most at risk with all their technology devices. Their brains desperately need sleep, so make it a hard and fast rule that all devices are turned off completely at bedtime. Don’t put those cell phones next to the bed, put them across the room or in another room completely and turn them off!

Getting some kind of exercise each day will help you feel ready for bed at night. So will avoiding any caffeinated drinks after about 2p.m. Then you can create a sleep environment for each family member that is relaxing, comfortable, quiet and dark. Sleeping in the darkest room possible will help you sleep more deeply and release more melatonin naturally.

Sleep is when we repair. Sleep is when we regenerate tissue. Sleep is when we increase and boost our immune system. Sleep is when we reboot a lot of our body’s processes. Make it a priority starting tonight!

Leave us a comment and share your best tips for falling asleep and getting a good night’s rest.

RJ sleeping on the floor

Make sleep a priority

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