Nurses, as health care workers who spend most of their day with the public, must be aware of any outbreaks in their community. You are likely to be aware of the flu season every year and have made plans to help prevent its spread. Depending on where you live, you may have to get a flu vaccine every year to protect your family, friends, colleagues, and patients. You probably also advise your patients to get flu shots.
What if you discovered that something so seemingly innocuous – and so common – can cause your immune system and the immune systems of your patients to respond poorly to influenza vaccinations? This would make the drug less effective by more than 50%?
Lack of sleep puts health at risk
Insufficient sleep is the common “something” that we’re all talking about.
In his seminal book Why, we Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker, sleep expert and neuroscientist, he cites a 2002 study that showed a profound impact on individuals who were only allowed to sleep four hours per night for six consecutive nights. Healthy individuals who acted as “controls” and were allowed to sleep 7 1/2 to 81/2 hours a day developed a strong response to the vaccine. This indicated a healthy immune system.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 80,000 people have died from influenza in 2017. How many of these people would have survived if they slept better?
Five Other Effects Of Sleep Deprivation
When the flu vaccine is working properly, it can save the lives of thousands of people, including those who are very young and very old. Poor sleep can have a number of negative effects on the body and brain, including the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Sleep deprivation is defined as anything less than the recommended seven to eight uninterrupted hours of restful sleep each night.
1. Increased Cancer Risk
2. Heart Disease: Increased Risk
Heart disease is the leading cause for death in the United States. It is characterized by several key features, including high blood pressure, plaque-filled blood vessel, stroke and heart attacks. All of these conditions are linked to poor sleep. People who sleep less than six hours a night, whether they are 45 or older, are 200 percent more at risk of having a stroke or heart attack compared to people who sleep seven to eight. Lack of sleep can also lower levels of “healthy HDL cholesterol” by disrupting genes that regulate the function of the heart.
3. Increased Risk of Depression, Alzheimer’s Disease Dementia and Other Cognitive Issues
4. Diabetes and Obesity Increased Risk
Chronic sleep deprivation is a major risk for type 2 diabetics. Sleep deprivation also lowers leptin levels, which are responsible for the feeling of being full. Lack of sleep also increases levels of ghrelin – the hunger hormone that causes feelings of hunger. This helps explain why people with less sleep eat more often and have greater food cravings than control subjects. Poor sleep can also lead to a desire for high-calorie junk foods and a decrease in feelings of satisfaction. These two factors combined make people who are chronically sleep deprived more likely to gain weight, become overweight and develop diabetes.
5. Accelerated Aging
Telomeres are the caps that protect the chromosomes at the end of the DNA strands. They work like the plastic caps on your shoelaces to keep them from fraying or breaking. Experts consider that when your telomeres start to shorten it is a classic sign for aging. The research has shown that the less sleep a person gets, the shorter and more damaged the telomeres are. This helps to explain why a person’s biological age (how “old” their cells and DNA appears) can be much younger than their actual chronological age.
This list is not exhaustive. Other health effects — including impaired learning and increased subjective pain — are also possible.
Remember that these negative effects don’t just apply to you. These effects are also true for your family, friends, and patients. Sleep deprivation costs billions of dollars a year. This doesn’t include social or emotional costs of seeing ourselves and loved ones fall ill due to causes that can be prevented.
5 Simple Tips to Get a Better Sleep Tonight
Five hours of sleep per night is no longer fashionable. A good night’s sleep will literally increase your life expectancy and your ability to enjoy your life.
Do you want to sleep better? Experts, including Dr. Walker of the National Institute on Aging, have shared five simple strategies.
1. You can also use a pencil to mark it in!
The best way to improve your sleep is to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even on weekends, holidays and vacations. In his book, Walker says that “if there is one piece of advice you should remember… this is it.”
2. Sleep in a Dark, Cool Room
By cool, experts mean around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees C). Darkness is when you can’t even see your hand in your face. Install blackout curtains and remove nightlights from your bedrooms.
3. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine late in the day and avoid eating large meals or excessive beverage intake too close to bedtime.
All of these can affect your ability to sleep and the quality of your sleep. Consider these alternatives beverages when you are at home or on night shift.
Exercise can help you fall asleep and has many health benefits. But avoid working out within two or three hours before bedtime.
5. The Right Amount Of Light
Sunlight exposure without sunglasses in the morning can reset and calibrate your internal clock. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes per day of sunshine. Avoid using digital technology and turn down the lights before bedtime to minimize blue light exposure.
Above all, remember: Insufficient sleep damages the immune system. A fully functioning immune system can literally mean the life or death for ill patients under your care. Dr. Walker shares some tips to improve the sleep of patients of all ages – from neonates and children to the elderly.
- Reduce the lighting in your entire workspace at night.
- Ask your patients to tell you about their sleep habits. Schedule non-urgent procedures and tests outside of your patient’s preferred sleeping hours.
- Remove all unnecessary alarms and devices from patient care areas.
- During the stay, offer sleeping masks and earplugs.
- Learn, educate and share. Learn more about the impact of sleep by reading Why We Sleep and other resources. Share your knowledge with your family, patients, and colleagues. Unfortunately, the public doesn’t learn the importance of getting a good night’s sleep.
Speak to your supervisor, or other people in your company to get the ball rolling. It may seem like a lofty objective, but unless major changes are made to the infrastructure of hospitals and other places where nurses work, patients will have a limited opportunity to sleep. Management may also need to address the practice of requiring nurses to work 12-hour shifts. This leaves little time for sleep.