National Sleep Awareness Week

March has been designated National Sleep Awareness Month. One part of sleep awareness is knowing how our sleep may be affected by changes in the environment. The National Sleep Awareness Week this year emphasizes dangers such as drowsy driving, stress, anger and road rage. But the dangers of sleep deprivation go far beyond these visible risks. Sleep deprivation can, in fact, undermine all areas of your physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system leaving us more susceptible to other diseases and disorders like diabetes, cancer and even the common cold.

It is not uncommon for people who suffer from sleep deprivation due to sleep disorders – sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, etc. – to also suffer from other problems including diabetes, asthma or a second sleep disorder. Sleep deprivation also causes much stress and, again, stress weakens our immune system – a double whammy. And both of these things, sleep deprivation and stress, can upset your mental processes. You may suffer from confusion, memory loss, irritability or emotional highs and lows. If you already have a mental disorder, sleep deprivation only adds to the problem.

Most of the United States returns to Daylight Saving Time beginning at 2 a.m. local time on a Sunday in March . As we spring forward and advance our clocks one hour, it is important to consider how this small change can affect our sleep. Moving our clocks, watches, and cell phones in either direction changes the principal time cue—light—for setting and resetting our 24-hour natural cycle, or circadian rhythm. In general, “losing” an hour in the spring is more difficult to adjust to than “gaining” an hour in the fall. An “earlier” bedtime may cause difficulty falling asleep and increased wakefulness during the early part of the night.

If you have insomnia or are sleep-deprived already, you could experience more difficulties. In this situation, you could see decreased performance, concentration and memory during the workday, which is common to sleep-deprived individuals. You also may experience fatigue and daytime sleepiness. All of these are more likely if you consume alcohol or caffeine late in the evening. Your room should be dark, quiet, and free from electronic devices like television and mobile phones. In today’s technology-absorbed world, that may sound impossible, but try leaving your phone in another room for just one night, and see if it makes a difference! When you’re falling asleep, your body temperature dips slightly. Try lowering the heater or air conditioning by just a few degrees tonight.

So, if you want to stay healthy, be sure you get the sleep you need. If you’re trying to sleep in a room that’s too hot or too cold, your body struggles to achieve this set point. Try lowering the heater or air conditioning by just a few degrees tonight, remember, if you don’t have your health, you probably won’t be participating in these activities anyway. If your lack of sleep comes from a sleep disorder, or even if you suspect you may have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor and ask if he thinks you should have a sleep study done. Sleep – it’s one of life’s essentials.