When it comes to your health, it's so important to remember that sleep is your friend.
Recently I neglected this friend, and I paid for it, big time.
Long story short -- the way my schedule worked out, I ended up working six 12-hour shifts in the span of eight days. Work was busy, requiring me to stay late to finish charts. Additionally, my 4 year-old was regularly waking around 4 or 5 AM. He was able to get back to sleep easily. Me, not so much. This was especially rough on the last day of the stretch, when I was up before 5 AM, scheduled for an 11A-11P shift, and didn't leave the hospital til after 1 AM. Although I was off the next day, I still needed to get the kids up and ready for school, and I still had charts that needed to be finished ASAP.
I'm used to a varying schedule. Some days work consumes 14+ hours of my day, and I'm MIA at home. Other days I'm off and have lots of quality time at home. Some people detest 12-hour shifts, but I actually like them because they allow me more days off. I typically try to schedule shifts in smaller chunks, with some down-time in between. I find that this works out best for me, my family, and my patients.
Due to being out of town the week before, a colleague needing a shift covered, and some extra meetings thrown in there, things got a little crazy for this particular stretch of days. Work consumed over 80 hours in just over a week's time. Talk about life being out of balance! I ended up doing precisely what I advise patients not to do.
It was a nice reminder of why it's important to avoid this kind of scenario.
When you're in the middle of it, you just go. You do what you need to do. But afterward, once the adrenaline has subsided and the sleep deprivation kicks in, your body lets you know that it doesn't appreciate what you put it through.
My body sent the message loud and clear. I was exhausted. I felt like I was in a mental fog. I was irritable and emotional. I felt physically beat up, with a headache and body aches. Basically, I was a mess.
My condition wasn't cured with a simple nap and early bedtime the next night. It took me days to recover. (Fortunately I did have several days off after that.) I was reminded that I'm not in my early twenties anymore -- I can't put my body through this kind of abuse and bounce back easily. No, I need to be smarter than that.
So I thought I'd use my bad example as a reminder of why sleep is so important for our health.
This is what happens when we don't get sufficient sleep:
- Cognitive impairment -- Thinking slows. It's harder to focus and pay attention. Learning, memory, judgment, and problem-solving are compromised.
- Mood -- Irritability, depression, and anxiety worsen.
- Fatigue -- Decreased energy level impairs quality of life.
- Cardiovascular problems -- Prolonged sleep deprivation increases the risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
- Immunosuppression -- Sleep deprivation impairs the body's natural self-healing mechanisms, making it harder for the body to fight illness.
- Increased inflammation -- Inflammatory markers in the body increase as sleep decreases. Inflammation is thought to contribute to a number of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, allergies, and cancer.
- Weight gain -- Weight gain and obesity have been shown to increase as sleep decreases.
- Appearance -- Decreased sleep is correlated with increased "You look tired" comments, which we all love to hear. :) Sufficient rest is needed for a more youthful and refreshed appearance.
Life gets hectic. It often seems there's too much to do and not enough time to do it. It can be tempting to skimp on sleep. Let my poor example be a reminder that it's not worth it. Sleep deprivation not only sabotages your productivity and effectiveness, it's also detrimental to your health.
Sleep is your friend -- a great friend that should not be neglected on your journey to improved health. So make time for your friend. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
This post was originally published on September 23, 2016.