Getting enough sleep?

Getting enough sleep?

Cathy Brownfield

Tonight, we turn the clocks back an hour, as if we all grumble enough about not feeling rested when our feet hit the floor in the morning and we begin another day. How many of us will take several days to get our internal clocks reset?

Several years ago my husband and I wrapped up a visit with friends and family in North Carolina. We decided to make the 9-1/2-hour drive home overnight to avoid the heavy daytime traffic. We did not rest before we set out for home. We wanted every possible minute with the people we were leaving behind. We both felt wide awake, ready to turn north on I-77, and started about 10 p.m. bound for Ohio.

I never sleep when we are traveling. I have to be alert and aware, talking to the husband to keep him alert and aware, for defensive driving because we don’t know what other drivers around us are going to do. When he began to drift to the edge of the interstate in the mountains of southern West Virginia, I realized he was fighting sleep. I urged him to pull over and let me drive for a while. He finally did.

About 3:30 in the morning we stopped at an all-night fast-food place to stretch our legs, eat something and drink a cup of coffee. (I rarely drink that stuff.) We were about half of the way home. Staying awake was a challenge. Putting the window down, or cranking the AC to full wasn’t helping as we drove toward the Ohio River. The husband had fallen asleep in the passenger seat and I fought to keep myself awake.

We arrived home about first light. I wanted to kiss the ground when we got there. We unloaded the car, locked the door behind us and slept the morning and half of the afternoon away. And we made up our minds that if we were going to travel distance at night again, we would take a long nap first. Driving when we both were so tired was risky. Anything could have happened.

You see, “sleep loss quickly impairs mental well-being,” according to an article from Psych Congress Network.

So that you know, sleep deprivation is when you don’t have enough sleep, a sleep that allows you to be alert and on top of your game. Not having enough sleep can take you to places you just don’t want to go. Drowsiness slows reaction time. (I can attest to that!) Johns Hopkins Medical reports that one in 25 drivers have fallen asleep while driving in the past month. But there is more.

Not getting enough of the right kind of rest can increase dementia risk by 33 percent. It can age your brain by three to five years. There is a 48 percent increased risk for developing heart disease, a three times higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and a 50 percent higher risk of obesity.

“Sleeping is a basic human need, like eating, drinking and breathing,” says the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “It’s a vital part of the foundation for good health and well-being throughout your lifetime.”

When we don’t get enough sleep we can’t think clearly, become forgetful. Without enough sleep and the right kind of sleep, our brains cannot transfer what we learned today to our long-term memories. That transfer happens during deep sleep. And we may not think sleep deprivation is affecting us, but it does. It impairs judgment, advises WebMD. The husband and I should have stopped to sleep before continuing our journey, but all we thought about was getting back home.

The Psych Congress article advises, and is supported by a number of years of documentation, that less than six hours of sleep puts one at risk of injuries, serious health conditions and death.

To learn more about how sleep works, visit online at, “Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.”

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