SHUT-EYE: Research and common sense support our observations on the consequences of lack of sleep
ONE of the casualties of our increasingly busy lives is sleep. Many people now find it hard to get to sleep and the growing number of those who work longer or overnight hours is compounding the issue.
The easy accessibility of entertainment and distractions is also leading to a lack of sleep for many individuals.
Some people seem to be able to operate on little sleep but, on the whole, the negative effects of sleep deprivation for the overwhelming majority of us are what many experience.
During my current trip to Malaysia, I had an overnight flight and spent a large part of the next day travelling to reach my destination due to the gap in flight schedules and so forth.
So I had little sleep during my travel. I picked up an hour of sleep on the plane and I confess I fell asleep in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on transit.
The net result was a feeling of tiredness that lasted for a few days and I caught a small cold as well which lasted for 48 hours.
Research tells us that lack of sleep does have health impacts. It can increase our susceptibility to infections such as colds and can have effects on mood swings and a whole array of other potentially harmful consequences.
With regard to crankiness and catching colds, my little story certainly does bear this out.
Many of us now are increasingly tired and, due to this, lose concentration on the simplest of tasks. Have any of my readers ever been really tired at the wheel of a car? Have you ever not seen a red light or been alert enough to common signals and said to yourself, "I need more sleep", "I am not paying attention" and finally, "that was a close shave!"
I can confess on the odd occasion I have experienced this and on many of those instances I knew that tiredness was the core culprit.
Lack of sleep is not simply uncomfortable. It can have significant health implications.
There is some evidence that lack of sleep in children can cause problems in health, behaviour and development. This is a significant concern in some schools. If students turn up to class tired and lethargic, moody or ill, lack of sleep may be related.
It is important for educators to check in on this matter since it may inform or be the root cause of some problems that we face in the classroom.
There is a lot of research and information available online on this issue.
However, I found an interesting discussion of the subject on the Harvard Business Review Blog.
In discussing the problem of lack of sleep, Tony Schwartz points out that: "So why is sleep one of the first things we're willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives keep rising?
"We continue to live by a remarkably durable myth: sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity. In reality, the research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, our mood, our cognitive capacity and our productivity (see Tony Schwartz, Sleep Is More Important Than Food, March 3, 2011, http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2011/03/sleep-is-more-important-than-f.html)."
So it appears that research and common sense support our personal observations on the consequences of lack of sleep on our health, our well-being and our capacities to concentrate.
Lack of sleep is a concern for educators, workers and students alike.
The consequences of lack of sleep are potentially quite damaging and it is one of those issues that we need to take more seriously -- in terms of our individual lives but also -- as a deeper and significant issue for the effective functioning of students and employees in educational, industrial and business organisations alike.
Interestingly in Schwartz's blog post, he also provides some practical tips on how we as individuals can address the challenge.
So I shall end this piece of writing quoting his three tips and I hope these may be of some use to those of my readers who also realise that they are missing their sleep. Schwartz writes:
l Go to bed earlier -- and at a set time. Sounds obvious right?
The problem is there is no alternative.
You are already waking up at the latest possible time you think is acceptable. If you do not ritualise a specific bedtime, you'll end up finding ways to stay up later, just the way you do now.
l Start winding down at least 45 minutes before you turn out the light. You will not fall asleep if you are all wound up from answering email, or doing other work.
Create a routine around drinking a cup of herbal tea, or listening to music that helps you relax, or reading a dull book.
l Write down what is on your mind -- especially unfinished to-do's and unresolved issues -- just before you go to bed.
If you leave items in your working memory, they will make it harder to fall asleep, and you'll end up ruminating about them if you should wake up during the night.
Finally, for those of you who are reading this late in the evening -- good night!
James Campbell New Straits Times Online Learning Curve 16 December 2012