I read once in high school that driving tired is like driving drunk.  At the time, I found myself researching the subject to convince my grandpa that we should extend our vacation another day instead of driving home through the night.  Given the choice between the boundary waters of northern Minnesota and the dusty skies of northwest Indiana, who would want to leave a day early?  Looking back, though, I think the comparison between drowsy driving and drunk driving says a lot about the effect sleep has on our mental health.

In our society, sleep is a common topic of discussion.  We all know we're not getting enough of it.  But while juggling work and school and personal time, sleep is usually the first thing to get cut out of a busy schedule.

Our first act when we realize we’re not sleeping enough is usually to look for replacements for sleep.  Energy drinks, coffee, power naps.  Anything that will help us stay up late to get work done, then wake up early to get more work done.  The typical solution for getting too little sleep, “get more sleep,” is more of a frustration to the sleepless than it is a useful piece of advice.  The American Academy of Sleep Medicine argues that while brief naps and caffeine consumption may be a temporary solution to sleep deprivation, they hold no long-term benefits.

No matter how many ways we try to get around it, sleep is important.  A lack of sleep can lower your immune system, and in an article published by Science Daily, there is evidence to suggest that missing even a couple of hours of sleep during the night can be a trigger for inflammation throughout the body, which can potentially be a cause for problems such as heart disease, arthritis, and certain cancers.

Sleep not only has an impact on our physical health.  It also affects our mood and mental health.  We can all tell when the people around us are sleep-deprived.  There’s a lack of efficiency, increased forgetfulness, and mood swings we’d rather not be around.

The thing is, though, sleeplessness doesn't always make people tired.  Sometimes it can lead to hyperactivity.  In children, specifically, an article in the New York Times indicates that sleep deprivation can result in behavioral problems, including a possible ADHD diagnosis, because of the similarities between symptoms of sleep deprivation and ADHD.

The fact is, there isn’t any real substitute for sleep.  Sometimes we really do just need to make more time for it.



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