No doubt about it, hot summer nights can make it tough to sleep. Longer daylight that runs into the evening hours can make it harder to fall asleep. We get off our bedtime schedule. We have a lot on our minds. There are so many factors that can stand between us and a good night’s sleep. In today’s stress-filled world, those things are taking a toll yet to be fully measured.
While the duration and timing of sleep has fluctuated through the ages, there is now one thing upon which we might all agree: Sleep should be a time of physical renewal. When we don’t get enough quality sleep, we suffer consequences. It is a concept that has long supported an industry built around the idea of enhancing the quality of sleep. According to statista.com, in 2019, the global sleep economy industry was valued at about $432 billion. That number is expected to jump to $585 billion by 2024.
Dr. Tracy Gapin is a renowned men’s health expert who for more than 20 years has provided Fortune 500 executives and entrepreneurs advice on optimizing their health and performance.
“Admit it. It’s the first thing to go when you’re under the gun: a good night’s sleep,” he explains in a recent edition of Entrepreneur magazine. “You’re on deadline. You’ve got to get this project done. You’re in the middle of a launch. There’s just too much to do to fit all in your regular hours. So, you burn the midnight oil. When your head finally hits the pillow, it takes you forever to go to sleep, because your brain won’t shut down … But hey, it’s worth it, right? You’ll rest when the emergency is over.”
“As a doctor, I’ve heard it all,” he adds. “I know the logic. I’ve used it myself. The thing is, when entrepreneurs do this, they shoot themselves in the foot. Worse, they could be setting themselves and their businesses up for failure.”
“They tell me, ‘I can do it, Doc.’ and ‘I’m used to it,’ writes Gapin. “Sure. Then I find that their blood pressure is up, they’ve put on weight, their blood sugar levels are climbing, and they’re on their way to pre-diabetes, heart disease and more. It’s not surprising. Studies show over and over again that chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of all these conditions, as well as colorectal cancer and early death.”
Sleep deprivation also negatively affects a person’s emotions. One cited 2018 report shows that sleep deprivation and sleep debt led to the emotion of anger. Another 2017 study demonstrated that sleep-deprived individuals had a harder time accurately recognizing emotions in others.
If you think his prediction is grim, here’s what a recent article in the New York Times by health reporter Oliver Whang has to say on the subject: “The sleep debt collectors are coming,” he writes. “They want you to know that there is no such thing as forgiveness, only a shifting expectation of how and when you’re going to pay them back.” For those holding onto the old scientific consensus that sleep debt can be forgiven with “a couple of quality snoozes” and we can catch up on sleep, Whang suggests it may be time to rethink such notions. A new review article published in the journal Trends in Neurosciences contends that “the last couple of decades of research on long term neural effects of sleep deprivation in both animals and humans, points to mounting evidence that getting too little sleep most likely leads to long-lasting brain damage and increased risk of neurodegenerative disorders,” he reports.
Says Fabian Fernandez, a neuroscientist at the University of Arizona who did not contribute to the new review, “Wakefulness in the brain, even under normal circumstances, incurs penalties. But when you’re awake for too long, then the system gets overloaded … If you’re asking your cells to remain active for 30 percent more time each day, cells die.” While many experts polled believe that study could ultimately change the way we think about sleep, not all agree. Dr. Jerome Siegel, a sleep scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, explains to Whang that “neural injury comes in degrees, and that the extent of sleep deprivation’s effect on the human brain is still largely unknown. He also expresses a concern that “undue worry about the long-term effects of sleep deprivation could lead people to try to sleep more, unnecessarily and with medication.”
Even before this new study came to light, concerns about people overmedicating to get to sleep were common. As reported on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” a new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shockingly reveals that over the past decade, the number of children overdosing on the sleep aid melatonin increased by 530%. The study also shows that the largest increase occurred in the first year of the pandemic.
As reported by ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, in 2021 alone, the study shows that more than 50,000 calls were placed to poison control centers in the United States about melatonin ingestion by children. “Most were unintentional exposure, meaning the parent did not give the child melatonin,” she adds. When a child ingests melatonin without adult supervision, it is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate action. “You either want to bring them to an emergency room or contact a poison control center,” says Ashton.
From USA Today, a recent survey of 2,000 adults conducted by the Norwegian health and wellness publication Helsestart revealed that currently, 50% of U.S. adults say they experience insomnia once a month or more. You might think that older generations are the ones most affected by insomnia; it is what existing research shows. Not so says a Google survey conducted by Helsestart, which revealed that more than 1 in 4 adults ages 18 to 24 experience insomnia every night. The data represents the highest rate of insomnia out of any age group in the U.S.