Insufficient sleep

A new public epidemic?

A new type of epidemic is brewing right under our eyes and we fail to notice it. Probably because of lack of sleep. This problem is becoming a very big deal because the CDC is now talking about this.

Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors

These are just a few types of problems that occur due to lack of sleep, there are many others such as the link between obesity and metabolic disorders, auto-immune disorders and permanent sleep disorders. So why do we sleep? There are many studies that show the evolutionary need for sleep. It mostly boils down to this: Your eyes and visual clues take up around 70% of your brain. Imagine a video recorder being on all day, how much data would that produce? A lot. That’s basically what your brain is. But at a might better level, all the captured video is HD and all those nice features.

The neurons make synapses and those synapses at large help encode and form memories. But not all memories are needed in the brain. This is because some of those are pointless details. Evolutionarily, we need sleep to clear out those synapses. The idea here is that during sleep, we have retrograde electrical flow. This means that current flows in reverse in the neurons precisely to help the neurons get rid of the synapses that are weak. This does not just mean pointless details because important details can just as well be encoded weakly. It’s a probabilistic approach: We hope that the important details are encoded strongly because they come to use a lot and we may revisit them. But if not, then we end up forgetting about them.

How much sleep we need varies between individuals but generally changes as we age. The National Institutes of Health suggests that school-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teens need 9-10 hours, and adults need 7-8 hours. According to data from the National Health Interview Survey, nearly 30% of adults reported an average of ≤6 hours of sleep per day in 2005-2007. In 2009, only 31% of high school students reported getting at least 8 hours of sleep on an average school night

These are the averages by CDC and realistically, most of us are nowhere near those numbers. It is a real issue and something we all need to address. Working efficiently, and not taking on too much work to be completed may help but fundamentally, we need something else. What may this be? I have no idea, but we do need something that will make us sleep better in ways that we can improve our mental processing capabilities and just get a good rest.

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