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Science Says Skimping On the Zs Is the Same As Being Drunk

Too Much Sleep Is Also Bad


With college classes underway or about to be, I took a moment this morning to reflect back on my good ol’ collegiate days. For me, they seem like a very long time ago (ahem…because they were).

Most of us remember our time in college regardless of our age. I was born in Brooklyn but raised in the foothills of North Carolina, so I’m a Southerner at heart. I did both my undergraduate and graduate studies (economics) in South Carolina where fraternities were and still are huge. While I’ll never forget those Animal House-style parties, intramural flag football games, and double dates to drive-in movies (yep, we really did that), I haven’t forgotten about the real reason I went to college. Throw all that fun stuff out the window and what I remember next, right up there with all those supply and demand curves intersecting, is roaming the stacks of the library (there was no social media or internet), writing papers on a Smith-Corona typewriter (without cut and paste or spell check), waiting in line to use the dorm hall phone to ask what happened in a lecture I’d missed (there were no cell phones), and most of all, cramming during exam week.

Studying mostly the night before an exam was not a very good idea. But let’s face it: we all did it. For me cramming consisted of caffeine-fueled all-nighters surrounded by piles of textbooks and scribbled lecture notes. Sound familiar?

Fast forwarding to the present, the question I’ve always asked is why I found those exams so challenging after all that hard core studying the night before, but looking back now, it all makes clear sense. I was drunk. Or sort of, anyway. Let me explain.

I’m not a big drinker, and I never was. But college is fast-paced and all that last minute cramming combined with the extracurricular activities I was involved in (I was on the track team so a lot of my time was spent running), getting enough sleep was harder than, well, getting into college. And according to a UK study, sleep deprivation is the same as being intoxicated.

The study is called “Waking up to the health benefits of sleep” and was conducted by researchers from the University of Oxford and the Royal Society for Public Health. The team found, among other things, that after 17 hours without sleep, our readiness is comparable to the effects of a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%. That’s incredible! But what puts it on my list of things that make me go “wow” is that 0.05% is considered “impaired” on blood alcohol level charts.

And get this: after 24 hours without sleeping, the body is in the same state it would be in at a BAC of 0.10%. Yep, that’s well beyond the 0.08% BAC that identifies someone as legally drunk. No wonder those price theory exams seemed so tough. My sleep-deprived brain was behaving in the same manner it would have behaved had I downed too many beers while tailgating! I look back now and I think, why didn’t I make sleep a priority? At the time, I was too busy being a college student to give it a second thought.

Let’s not kid ourselves, students know all about the importance of sleep. But they don’t care about getting enough in my view because it’s just their nature. Burning the midnight oil when staring down the barrel of exam week is just as much a part of college life as gambling is to Las Vegas. The numbers certainly back this up. An astonishing 99% of 1,500 students sampled at Indiana University of Pennsylvania admit to staying up late and cramming the night before an exam, according to a recent survey. It is naive to think that this percentage will improve in the near future.

But what about those of us who are long past our co-ed days? Depending on our age, we’re supposed to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night to function at our best. That’s according to a study by the National Sleep Foundation.

That’s not happening, though. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of us get fewer than 7 hours of sleep each night. And it’s no surprise that science tells us that is very bad news.

In a study of 10,308 men and women published in the Journal of Sleep Research, researchers from the University of Warwick and University College London found that lack of quality sleep can be a serious factor when it comes to our health. Because there’s a direct link between a good night’s sleep and stress, the team led by Professor Francesco Cappuccio found that those who reduced their sleep from 7 to 5 hours or fewer were almost twice as likely to die, particularly from cardiovascular disease but also from all other causes.

It is important to note that Cappuccio and his colleagues also found that too much sleep increases mortality. The team concluded that people who increased their sleep to 8 hours or more were more than twice as likely to die as those who had not changed their sleeping habit — mostly from non-cardiovascular diseases, however.

“In terms of prevention, our findings indicate that consistently sleeping around 7 hours per night is optimal for health and a sustained reduction may predispose to ill-health,” Cappuccio said.

The study took into account factors such as age, sex, marital status and living arrangements, job satisfaction, tobacco use, physical activity, alcohol intake, blood pressure, cholesterol and other physical ailments.

What all this means is that those of us wanting to live a healthier life have to get the right amount of sleep. As you ponder how to fit more Zs in, or get less of them, remember why you sleep — to give your body a much-needed break. One study I cited in this article says we are doubling the risk of death from heart disease by not sleeping enough, or by sleeping too much. Another says skipping out on sleep screws with our brain in the same manner as drinking alcohol excessively. To that I say: If just one all-nighter can alter our readiness to take a college exam as much as a pitcher of beer can, imagine what a lifetime of not getting the recommended amount of sleep can do to us. Years of excessive drinking certainly lead to nothing good.

Now tell us, how many hours of sleep do you get?

Originally published at medium.com

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