Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 9, 2014

ED VASICEK: Cutting back sleep has unhealthy side effects

Deficit can lead to dementia, deviant behavior

Kokomo Tribune

---- — There are certain interests we all have in common. One of them is food, a subject that excites me since I love to cook and I love to eat! But another area we have in common is sleep. Sleep is a natural function necessary to good health and solid thinking, but it is not always given the respect it deserves.

New studies force us to reconsider how much we value sleep.

According to U.S. News and World Report, “The National Sleep Foundation’s ... poll ... shows that many kids aren’t getting enough sleep, and that late-night access to all these electronic devices sure isn’t helping. The foundation recommends 11 hours of sleep for kids ages 6 through 10 and 8.5 to 9.5 hours for kids ages 11 through 17, but the parents surveyed in the 2014 poll say their kids typically get less than those recommendations ... 72 percent of parents say their kids have at least one electronic device in their bedroom while sleeping, and it turns out that those kids typically get a half hour to an hour less sleep per night than their peers.” Even the best teachers cannot counter the effects of sleepy students!

This contempt for sleep is not merely the domain of teenagers. According to Accuweather.com, “... in 1910 the average American slept between nine and 11 hours each night. By 2001, the average American slept only six hours.

“Sleep deprivation is classified as a lack of sleep that affects a person’s performance when awake ... This sleep deficit can lead to memory impairment, poor job performance and higher rates of motor vehicle accidents ...”

Not only do good sleep habits help us perform better on the job, how we sleep affects how we control ourselves. We are more likely to lose our temper, overeat, or take unwise short cuts when we do not sleep well. According to Professor Christopher Barnes of the University of Washington, “A growing body of research developed by several of my colleagues and I indicates that self-control is replenished while you sleep. One of the reasons this works is that self-control requires blood glucose as a fuel, especially in the portion of the brain responsible for self-control (the pre-frontal cortex). And sleep has been linked to regenerating that glucose in the pre-frontal cortex.

“What this means is that if you want to have strong self-control, you need to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. My research shows that sleep on a given night predicts unethical behavior the next day, through the causal mechanism of self-control. A colleague of mine found that losing as little as two hours of sleep (sleeping six hours instead of eight) led to deviant behavior at work the next day, again because of the effects of sleep on self-control.”

Getting enough sleep — and the right kind of sleep — may be an important factor in Alzheimer’s and dementia. According to Melanie Haikin of Forbes magazine, “When you sleep, your brain undergoes a mop-up process that removes waste products linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to new research published yesterday in the online version of Science.

“A team of researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) used high-tech imaging to look deep into the brains of mice and discovered that the brain functions differently while asleep than awake, ridding itself of accumulated proteins at a much faster rate ...

“Led by Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., who co-directs the URMC’s Center for Translational Neuromedicine, the researchers discovered that a waste-draining system they call the ‘glymphatic system’ is ten times more active during sleep than while awake. This nocturnal cleaning system removes proteins called amyloid-beta, which accumulate into the plaques that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.”

The pace and distracting technologies of modern life demand more of us than we have time to offer, and our attempts to cut the corners have consequences. Gravitating toward fast foods, less sleep and biting off more than we can chew (and the consequential stress) is a dangerous proposition.

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@gmail.com.