Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook

Sleep Disorders

Foregoing Sleep for Work

07/21/2011

Question:

My brother works 18 hours a day because he runs a courier company. He does get sleepy, but he cannot sleep for more than two to three hours every day due to his work schedule and other house chores. Sometimes he does not even get those two to three hours of sleep because of his family commitments! He is 50 years old and has been doing this for over 30 years. He has acid reflux problems and dark circles around his eyes. Even with poor sleep and a heavy work schedule he is not irritable or grouchy. He is always there to help and does everything he can to make life easier for everyone around him. What do you suggest for this hard worker who just isn’t getting enough sleep?

Answer:

I’d suggest he rethink his lifestyle!! Unfortunately, he is an example of what has become all too commonplace in modern society – not making sleep a priority. Most individuals need 7-8 hours to function well and be at their best.  When they deprive themselves of this needed sleep, they are putting themselves at risk for all sorts of problems. A chronic lack of sleep is now recognized as a contributory factor to numerous bad effects on our health and well-being and thus getting more sleep is really in your brother’s best interest.

While we don't completely understand the reasons why we sleep and what exactly the function of sleep is, growing research suggests that adequate sleep is important for the process of functioning and health. Studies have found that individuals that are sleep deprived tend to perform poorly in test situations, have reduced concentration and tend to be more irritable and anxious. Chronic partial sleep deprivation can also affect our ability to learn and thus can have a significant impact on school and job performance. Believe it or not, but we actually “learn” (take daytime experiences or what we have studied during the day and store them into long-term memory) better with sleep than if we’re to stay awake all night.

It has only been in the last 10 years or so that we have begun to understand the wide ranging impact that lack of adequate sleep can have on our health and well-being. Recent research has shown, in pretty convincing fashion, that insufficient (lack of enough) sleep can contribute to significant weight gain. This appears to be due to changes in hormones that control appetite and cravings for certain foods. Weight gain, in turn, can lead to other medical problems, such as diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, etc. While not as clear, chronic lack of sleep by itself may contribute directly to the development of hypertension. As mentioned above, another area of concern is the impact that insufficient sleep has on vigilance, ability to concentrate and daytime sleepiness. These all can be impaired by insufficient sleep and, as a result, can have wide ranging consequences, including increased rates of car accidents and work-related accidents. Some of the largest man-made disasters in modern times were attributed, in part, to sleep deprived individuals making poor decisions (Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez, etc.). And if all that were not enough, numerous studies have all found that short sleep duration is associated with increased mortality (death). Thus short sleepers (those not getting enough sleep) are more likely to die at a young age compared to those sleeping 7-8 hours per night. So as you can see, lack of adequate sleep can have serious consequences, affecting learning, social function, and health.

I recommend that your brother reconsider his lifestyle and begin making sleep a priority in his life. An evaluation by a Sleep Specialist would be helpful if a primary sleep disorder such as insomnia is suspected.

If you have other specific questions about sleep, lack of sleep, or other sleep disorders, please visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. In addition to information, the website contains a list of Sleep Centers and Sleep Specialists across the country so that you may locate one near you. The website Sleep Education.com also contains plenty of consumer friendly information about sleep and sleep apnea. Good luck and here's to better sleep!

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Dennis   Auckley, MD Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University