Sleep is a basic drive of nature. Sufficient sleep helps us think more clearly, complete complex tasks better and more consistently and enjoy everyday life more fully. Although many questions regarding the role of sleep remain unanswered, scientific studies have shown that sleep contributes significantly to several important cognitive, emotional and performance-related functions.
Sleep is, in essence, food for the brain, and insufficient sleep can be harmful, even life-threatening.
When hungry for sleep, the brain becomes relentless in its quest to satisfy its need and will cause feelings of “sleepiness,” decreased levels of alertness or concentration, and, in many cases, unanticipated sleep. Excessive sleepiness is also associated with reduced short-term memory and learning disability, negative mood, inconsistent performance, poor productivity and loss of some form of behavioral control.
Sleep researchers believe that insufficient sleep in young adults is linked to increased injuries and death. About 1 million, or 1/6th ,of all traffic crashes in the United States are believed to be attributable to lapses in the driver’s attention; sleep loss and fatigue increase the chances of such lapses occurring. A North Carolina state study found that drivers age 25 or younger cause more than ½ of fall-asleep crashes. Young adults who have not received sufficient sleep and who consume even small amounts of alcohol are at greater risk of injury than those who are lacking sleep because sleep loss has been shown to heighten the effects of alcohol.
Studies also suggest that sleep loss may be associated with a decreased ability to control, inhibit, or change emotional responses.
Perhaps the most significant behavioral change that adults can make is to establish and maintain a consistent sleep/wake schedule.
Understanding and practicing other behaviors that are considered good sleep habits are also important. These include getting enough sleep, avoiding caffeine and other stimulants late in the day and alcohol at night, relaxing before going to sleep and creating an environment conducive to sleep.
Sleep research has established clear relationships between sleepiness, health, safety and productivity. The sleep research field in general is relatively young, and we have much to learn about the role of sleep and the effects of sleep loss in adults.