(This is the first of a four-part series on sleep. See Tuesday’s edition to learn more about sleep disorders.)
Noah Johnson, a senior at Humboldt High School, often falls asleep with cell phone in hand and the television on.
In the morning, the alarm on his phone wakes him. The first thing he does is check his phone for the time and notifications from various apps and accounts.
Johnson estimates he sleeps between five to six hours, depending on his extracurricular activities and homework responsibilities. He should be getting between 7-10 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Johnson knows he isn’t getting the recommended amount. He might feel a little tired in the morning, but seems to have plenty of energy throughout the day. He sees better sleep as more of a long-term goal.
“Right now, being a high school senior, it doesn’t seem like the biggest thing I have on my plate,” he said.
Johnson’s sleep routine may seem typical. More than one-third of American adults don’t get enough sleep, according to the CDC. Lack of sleep can result in chronic health problems and can lead to motor vehicle crashes and mistakes at work.
Local health experts say a good night’s sleep is the best way to keep yourself in a healthful condition, both physically and emotionally.
“We don’t pay enough attention to sleep,” Dr. John Nelson, a pulmonologist and sleep specialist who serves as director of Allen County Regional Hospital’s sleep lab, said. “It’s an epidemic.”
GOOD SLEEP habits are critical to good health, Nelson said. “And poor sleep is strongly associated with ill health in many ways.”
Poor sleep can lead to or worsen health problems like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, dementia, depression and metabolic issues. Problems like fibromyalgia or restless leg syndrome and even some medications make it difficult to get a restful night’s sleep. Alcohol or drug use also can interfere with sleep.
“Sleep deprivation affects virtually all metabolic processes,” Nelson said.
People who are sleep-deprived often complain of fatigue. It may be difficult for them to initiate or maintain physical activity. They may have difficulty concentrating or remembering things, or may feel irritable.
They also may fall asleep at inappropriate times, like when they sit down to watch TV or attend church. Their spouses complain about snoring, frequent trips to the bathroom or tossing and turning. They may experience “microsleeps,” which are very short periods of sleep while still awake such as someone who drives to a destination but has no memory of the trip.
Drowsy driving causes 1,500 deaths and 40,000 nonfatal injuries each year, according to the National Department of Transportation. Studies show drowsy driving is as dangerous as being impaired by alcohol.