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When at night I go to sleep,
Fourteen angels watch
do keep.
Two my head are guarding,
Two my feet are guiding,
Two are by my right hand,
Two are by my left hand,
Two warmly cover,
Two o'er me hover,
Two to guide my steps
To guide my steps to Heaven.

From the Opera Hansel and Gretel

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    Many of us have a lot of reasons to stay up as much as possible.   Lack of sleep is very dangerous as I learned recently when I fell asleep at the wheel of a car while driving on a highway.  Luckily for me my brother noticed we were drifting off the edge of the bridge and yelled "watch out" and woke me up.   He was my "angel".    Thanks to him I'm alive to write this and you have the opportunity to read it.  Unfortunately not all drivers have angels with them as described in the song above.  The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll and found that:

The poll found that 53 percent surveyed admitted that they "drive drowsy" and 19 percent had actually fallen asleep at the wheel. The National National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that a driver's inability to stay awake is the cause of at least 5 percent of accidents each year, including 100,000 crashes, 1,550 deaths, and 40,000 injuries. .

William C. Dement, the founder of the world's first sleep-disorders clinic coauthored an article with Christopher Vaughan that appeared in the September 1999 Reader's Digest called Getting Enough Sleep? Dream On.    They wrote

"It is hard to prove how many fatal car accidents are caused by the driver's falling asleep, but my conviction is that the number is high.  Laboratory experiments have confirmed that the sleep-deprived mind is prone to "microsleeps"--lapses of consciousness so brief that the subject may not even be aware of them."

    A microsleep in a car can lead to an accident.   Medical residents, who almost never get enough sleep, have more than twice the number of accidents as the national average

    According to Dement and Vaughan's article studies have shown that

"Cognitive skills and physical performance are impaired by sleep debt, but mood is affected even more.  People who get less than a full night's sleep are prone to feel less happy, more stressed, more physically frail and more mentally and physically exhausted as a result." 

   Martica Hall, PhD, who has conducted research at the University of Pittsburgh on stress-related sleep disturbances says that:

"Poor sleep is associated with lower [immune system] function and numbers of killer cells...Lower their numbers, and you may be at greater risk for illness."  

   The American Cancer Society started a massive study in 1959 surveying over one million Americans and found that short sleep time and a high correlation with mortality.   An interesting finding was that adults who slept ten hours or more also tended to have shorter lives.  Dr. Dement and Vaughan speculate that they had sleep disorders and so that even though they were in bed longer they were actually getting less sleep.

   Students often sacrifice sleep so that they can get more studying in yet sleep deprivation impairs exam performance.  This can lead to a vicious cycle.  Dement and Vaughan tell about a patient who was so sleep-deprived that she loaded her dirty dishes into the clothes dryer instead of the dishwasher.  She turned on the machine smashing china and glasses. 

     When I was a teaching assistant I had a student who usually did poorly on exams but who aced the final.  I overheard her explaining this to her friends.   She said she decided to get a full nights sleep before the final. 

    Sleep deprivation can affect one's memory.  Dr. Robert Stickgold, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues in the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston conducted interesting experiments showing the importance of sleep for memory.  These experiments are described in the March 2000 issue of The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

    Clearly sleep deprivation is not the answer to doing well on exams.  If one does study overnight it's important to pay off one's sleep debt as soon as possible after the exam.  According to Dement and Vaughan one should sleep 8 hours every night.

The Sleep Foundation concluded from their poll that Americans instead of working to live, are living to work.  They reported

Adults report spending less time sleeping, engaged in social and leisure activities, and having sex than they did just five years ago.

   Lack of sleep can fuel mental illness.

    Sleep deprivation affects our ability to fight off illness, our memory, our ability to think, our mood and  our happiness.  If we get enough rest we will be healthier, happier and more alive while we are awake. 

    More information about the affects of lack of sleep can be found on the sleepnet website.

c o p y r i g h t   ( c )   1 9 9 9 -2004 Karl Ericson Enterprises.  All rights reserved

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